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Facebook's new privacy tool lets you manage how you're tracked across the web

Mark Zuckerberg's long-promised "Clear History" button is finally launched globally.

Mark Zuckerberg at Facebook's F8 conference in 2018, with a sign saying "Data Privacy"

Mark Zuckerberg during Facebook's F8 conference in 2018, promising the future of the social network would be focused on privacy.

James Martin / CNET

Facebook has been determined to give people privacy controls while they're on the social network. On Tuesday, it rolled out a long-promised tool designed to give them control beyond the social network. 

In a blog post on Data Privacy Day, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced that its "Off-Facebook Activity" tool -- which lets you manage how Facebook tracks you across the internet -- will finally be launched globally. Zuckerberg had promised this feature since May 2018, when he called it a "Clear History" button

While it had slow rollouts around the world, starting last August, it should be available now to the 2.4 billion people who use Facebook every month, Zuckerberg said. 

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In the blog post, he explained that the delay came about because "we had to rebuild some of our systems" to make this a reality.

"Other businesses send us information about your activity on their sites and we use that information to show you ads that are relevant to you," Zuckerberg said in the post. "Now you can see a summary of that information and clear it from your account if you want to."

Tracking, tracking everywhere

Facebook's vast reach around the internet enables tracking in places that have continued to surprise many people over the years. On Monday, the Electronic Frontier Foundation reported that the Ring doorbell app for Android devices had been sending information to Facebook through third-party trackers in the app.  

That's the most recent case, but researchers have also found that menstrual tracking apps were sharing sensitive information with Facebook, as were other health apps, which Facebook defended as "industry standard practice." 

Facebook had been criticized by lawmakers for its expansive tracking methods, such as the Facebook Pixel. The tool, which is named because it's essentially the size of a pixel and not noticeable on a webpage, gives Facebook information on when you visit a website and what your activities were, such as buying something from the page. It had been on at least 8.4 million websites across the internet, according to a letter sent to the UK Parliament in 2018. 

Even when your Facebook account is deactivated, the social network continues to track your web activity, assuming that you will return and looking to show the most relevant ads when you come back. 

Along with deleting your history through the tool, the Off-Facebook Activity feature also allows you to turn off future tracking, making sure that your online history isn't a continuous chore that you have to keep cleaning on Facebook. 

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Facebook's Off-Facebook Activity tool has a tab that allows you to turn off future tracking.

Facebook

But Facebook added a caveat to its new tool, noting that while it prevents tracking your data online, it doesn't stop advertisers and businesses from targeting ads to you based on other factors, including your contact information. To do that, you'd have to go to Ad Controls, and turn off "Ads based on data from partners."

The Off-Facebook Activity tool is meant as a complement to Facebook's Privacy Checkup feature, which is a central hub for people to manage their privacy on the social network -- as in who can tag them in photos and what third-party apps have access to their accounts.