The Off-Facebook Activity tool allows users to see which apps and businesses are sending collected data away from the social network to Facebook.
The user can disconnect this information from their account using a new “clear history” button – although the data is not deleted, as the word clear might seem to suggest.
In a briefing to journalists, Facebook said that “clear history” was meant to evoke the idea of clearing the cache on a browser such as Chrome or Firefox, which removes the cookies used to track people across the web.
Once third party apps and businesses are disconnected, Facebook confirmed that they will remain that way indefinitely – although by default they will be connected.
The tool, which can be found in the “Your Facebook Information” of Facebook’s settings, is being released today in Ireland, South Korea, and Spain. Facebook says the roll-out will be completed globally “over the coming months”.
Apps and businesses send data to Facebook in order to target people more effectively with advertising. Facebook collects the data for the same reason.
It offers a range of tools to help websites and apps collect data, including Facebook Pixel, a piece of code that collects data on anyone who visits a website, and Facebook SDK, which tracks data on apps.
Last December, campaign group Privacy International found a number of popular Android apps routinely shared data with Facebook, allowing the social network to track users, non-users and logged-out users outside its platform.
Frederike Kaltheuner, corporate exploitation programme lead at Privacy International, said Facebook’s move was “very positive”.
He said: “Most people don’t know that Facebook sees this kind of data and offering this tool will educate more people about this. This will allow more people to file complaints about websites and apps that are collecting and sending data illegally.”
However, Mr Kaltheuner questioned why Facebook was leaving it to users to opt out of Off-Facebook Activity, saying: “If Facebook is serious about privacy, they should configure the tools and products that apps and websites use in such a way that they don’t automatically leak data.”
By limiting its own ability to track users, Facebook is potentially restricting its ability to make money through highly-targeted advertising.
In a blog post, the company said: “We expect this could have some impact on our business, but we believe giving people control over their data is more important.”
Asked whether the firm expected to make a loss, Stephanie Max, product manager for the tool – which took a year to make and involved “hundreds of people across the country” – said Facebook had not estimated how its revenue would be affected.
Russ Mould, investment director at stockbroker AJ Bell, said the move would most likely please investors.
“Regulatory pressure is probably their greatest concern when it comes to Facebook’s profits, cash flows and therefore share price,” he told Sky News.
“Investors won’t want to see regulatory fines start to pile up, even if they will try to dismiss them as a one-off issue.
“Only if user numbers start to fall – for whatever reason – will investors really become concerned.”