Identity Blog

How to Download Your Facebook Data

How Facebook handles and treats users personal information has been a central topic of conversation the past few weeks. Last week, Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, answered questions in Congress about data privacy and his responsibilities to users. During his testimonial, he repeatedly stated that Facebook has a tool that allows people to see and take out all the information they have put into Facebook.

Facebook

This, however, is an overstatement.

I went ahead and used this tool, which did allow me to download all the data that Facebook had on me. I was not, however, able to delete any information. Instead, I found that Facebook had stored an extensive amount of information that I had not expected.

How to Download a Copy of your Facebook Data:

Step 1: Log in to your Facebook account and access Account Settings by clicking the arrow at the top right of the page, and select Settings

Step 2: Click General in the left hand column

Step 3: At the bottom of the General Account Settings page, click Download a copy of your Facebook data.

Facebook

Step 4: You’ll be taken to a new webpage where you will be asked to confirm that you want to download your Facebook information. Click the green Start my Archive button to continue.

facebook start my archive

Step 5: It takes about 10 minutes to an hour for Facebook to gather all your photos, wall posts, messages and other information.

To confirm, click the blue Start my Archive button.

Step 6: You will now be asked to verify your identity by typing in your Facebook password.

Step 7: Check your inbox for a message from Facebook, confirming that you requested a copy of your account data. You’ll receive a separate message with the link to your download once Facebook has completed compiling your information. This could take anywhere from 10 minutes to an hour.

Facebook

Step 8: Once you have received the second message that contains the download link, click it to retrieve a copy of your Facebook data.

Step 9: Click the green Download Archive button to continue. You will then be required to verify your identity again by typing in your Facebook password.

Facebook

Step 10: Go to your Download folder on your computer and open the ZIP archive you have downloaded.

Facebook

For security reasons, the link will only work for a few days after being sent.

You’ve given away more data than you think

After you have download a copy of your Facebook data, you will see a folder that contains multiple subfolders and files.

The most important one is the index file, which is essentially a raw data set of your Facebook account – this includes your profile, friends list, timeline, messages etc. One surprising part of my index file was a section called Contact Info. This contained the names and phone numbers of everyone on my iPhone’s address book – this was kind of unsettling to me.

Facebook

When I looked into how Facebook had this information, I discovered that they had stored my entire phone book because I had uploaded it when setting up Facebook Messenger on my phone.

Another thing I discovered in my index file, is how little Facebook forgets. For example, not only did they keep a record of every time I opened Facebook in the past 2 years, but they also recorded my location, device and browser. Facebook’s reasoning for this is security. They keep a log of this data in order to flag suspicious logins from unknown devices or locations.  

This answer seemed reasonable enough to me.

The part of the index that seemed unusual to me, was that Facebook had kept information that I had deleted. For example, in the Friend section, Facebook had a record of all people I had removed as friends. The company’s reasoning was that they may use that list to ensure I do not see those people on my feed with the “On This Day” feature (memories that are resurfaced).

I don’t know about you, but I would rather not have Facebook hold onto the data that I delete.

The Ad Industry has eyes everywhere

Facebook

The amount of data that Facebook has on me isn’t nearly as disturbing as the number of advertisers that have my information in their databases. I found this when I went into the Ads section. There I could see a history of all the ads I had clicked on in the past month.

Lower down, however, there is a section titled “Advertisers who have uploaded your contact info” – there I could see the hundreds of companies that had my contact information. Some of the brands I had never heard of before, but there was others that were more expected like Starbucks, Netflix, and Sephora.

Facebook says that unfamiliar advisors might appear on this list because they acquired the contact information from somewhere else, compiled a list of people they want to target, and then uploaded it to Facebook. The advertisers are able to upload their customer lists with a tool called Custom Audiences. This helps them find those people on Facebook and serve them ads.  

Some ways that companies can obtain your information includes:

1. Buying Information from a Data Provider: Brands can buy different types of customer data, like contact information for people who belong to a certain demographic, and then take that data to Facebook to serve targeted ads.

2. Using Tracking Technologies: This includes web cookies and invisible pixels that load in your web browser to collect information about your browsing activities. Facebook offers 10 different trackers to help companies harvest your information.

3. Shared Information: This is the simplest way a brand could have your information. Someone you shared your data with could share it with another entity.

Lesson Learned: Even though I barely click on digital ads, my personal information can still be shared with an enormous number of advertisers. This is not entirely surprising, but seeing the list of unfamiliar brands with my contact information has definitely given me a good dose of reality.

Final Note: Once you see the vast amount of data that has been collected on you, you won’t be able to unsee it.

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