Facebook has a tonne of data on you and your friends.
With the recent revelations that third-party companies, like Cambridge Analytica, were allegedly using data harvested from their Facebook apps to, among other things, sway political opinion, people are starting to look more closely at what data Facebook actually stores about them. People are also realising what that all means, in a big-picture sense. If you zoom out, all your data points can essentially be connected together.
Apps with full access to your information can, in a sense, create a digital twin of your life. With permission, they can see when you're online, what you do online, where you're going, who you call or chat or text with, and if you add up all those data points over the course of a decade, it can be really easy for them to predict your behavior, including, for instance, what you'll likely be doing, say, next Tuesday at 10:13am.
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As a result, many have taken to the drastic suggestion of deleting their account on the social network, but before you do the same, it’s worth seeing what data Facebook itself has collected on you over the years since you’ve been using the service. You can access your data archive via the settings panel in Facebook, and once you do, you might be a little surprised at just exactly how much data you’ve been giving away.
Here's what you need to know.
How to access your Facebook archive
Facebook lets you download a compressed archive that contains all of your memories and other information related to your account. You can keep everything from videos to your check ins. You can even keep your facial recognition data. If anything, your archive reveals just how much data and personal information Facebook has on you, which, in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal, is incredibly creepy and eye opening.
To download your information, follow these steps:
- Go to your Settings menu on Facebook.
- Go to the General section.
- Click "Download a copy of your Facebook data" at the bottom.
- Click “Start My Archive.”
What kinds of data does Facebook store?
Facebook stores different categories of data for different time periods. You may not find all your data since you've joined Facebook, because it may have been deleted from its servers. You really need to download your personal archive to see exactly what kinds of data it has received and collected from you over time. But, in a nut shell, Facebook has kept a record of nearly everything you’ve ever done on the site.
How about contact information for everyone one of not only your present friends but also people you were once friends with in the past? It has that. Want to ring up that ex-partner? Go for it. What about that friend you fell out with? It’s likely got those details, too. In fact, any contact information they’ve provided Facebook and shared, perhaps without realising it, is yours now to do with as you will.
When a Pocket-lint editor downloaded her archive, she found an exact home address and multiple phone numbers and email addresses of one of her Pocket-lint co-workers - even though that co-worker didn't currently allow that information to be public. She found similar information for several other friends as well, including friends she had long-since deleted. It’s not just about contact information though...
The site has recorded every little interaction you’ve ever done. The ads you’ve clicked on, the friend requests you’ve turned down, and even the events you’ve attended, declined, or ignored. You might even find photos you've once uploaded but later deleted.
Oh wow my deleted Facebook Zip file contains info on every single phone cellphone call and text I made for about a year- cool totally not creepy.— Mat Johnson (@mat_johnson) March 23, 2018
But in amongst the data are anomalies we also can’t account for: people’s phone numbers that are certain we’ve never been friends with, but whose settings have been perhaps left open to us because of their privacy settings. Facebook also seems to have years' worth of phone call metadata from some of our Android phones, including names, numbers, and the length of calls. The amount of data presented is shocking.
Downloaded my facebook data as a ZIP file— Dylan McKay (@dylanmckaynz) March 21, 2018
Somehow it has my entire call history with my partner's mum pic.twitter.com/CIRUguf4vD
It's certainly cause for concern - more so if you are a heavy user of Facebook. We’ve even been told what advertisers have been given our contact information - again, all of which we’ve probably agreed to at some point, but not necessarily understanding exactly what was involved when answering that fun quiz. We are all aware that Facebook keeps this data, but it’s not until it’s staring at you and presenting you with a trove of information about yourself that the ramifications of just what the company knows about you punches you in the face.
You can see a full list of what's included in the archive here, but we'll summarize below:
- About Me (information you added to the About section of your Timeline
- Account Status History (the dates when your account was reactivated, deactivated, disabled, or deleted)
- Active Sessions (all stored active sessions, including date, time, device, IP address, and cookies, etc)
- Ads Clicked (dates, times, and titles of ads clicked)
- Address (your current address or any past addresses you had on your account)
- Alternate Name (any alternate names you have on your account)
- Apps (all of the apps you have added)
- Birthday Visibility (how your birthday appears on your Timeline)
- Chat (a history of the conversations you’ve had on Facebook Chat)
- Check-ins (the places you’ve checked into)
- Connections (the people who have liked your Page or Place, RSVPs, etc)
- Credit Cards (if you make purchases on Facebook and have given Facebook your credit card number)
- Deleted Friends (people you’ve removed as friends)
- Education (any information you added to Education field of your Timeline)
- Emails (emails added to your account - even those you may have removed).
- Events (events you’ve joined or been invited to)
- Facial Recognition Data (aunique number based on photos you're tagged in)
- Favorite Quotes (information you’ve added to the Favorite Quotes section of the About section of your Timeline)
- Friend Requests (pending sent and received, even deleted ones)
- Friends (a list of your friends)
- Groups (a list of groups you belong to on Facebook)
- Downloaded Info (even hidden from News Feed)
- Any friends, apps or pages you’ve hidden from your News Feed.
- Hometown (the place you added to hometown in the About section)
- IP Addresses (a list of IP addresses where you’ve logged in)
- Last Location (the last location associated with an update)
- Activity Log (likes on others' posts; posts, photos or other content you’ve liked; likes on your own posts, etc)
- Linked Accounts (a list of the accounts you've linked to your account)
- IP address (plus, date and time associated with logins to your account)
- Logouts (IP address, date and time associated with logouts)
- Messages (messages you’ve sent and received, except for deleted ones)
- Name Changes (any changes you’ve made to the original name you used when you signed up for Facebook)
- Networks (affiliations with schools or workplaces that you belong to)
- Notes (any notes you’ve written and published to your account)
- Notification Settings (a list of all your notification preferences and whether you have email and text enabled)
- Pages You Admin (a list of pages you admin)
- Pending Friend Requests (pending sent and received friend requests)
- Photos (photos you’ve uploaded to your account)
- Photos Metadata (any metadata with your uploaded photos)
- Physical Tokens (vadges you’ve added to your account)
- Pokes (a list of who’s poked you and who you’ve poked)
- Political Views (any information you added to Political Views in the About section of Timeline)
- Posts by You (anything you posted to your own Timeline, like photos, videos and status updates)
- Posts by Others (anything posted to your Timeline by someone else, like wall posts or links shared on your Timeline)
- Posts to Others (anything you posted to someone else’s Timeline, like photos, videos and status updates)
- Privacy Settings (your privacy settings)
- Recent Activities (actions you’ve taken and interactions you’ve recently had)
- Registration Date (the date you joined Facebook)
- Religious Views (the current information you added to Religious Views in the About section of your Timeline)
- Removed Friends (people you’ve removed as friends)
- Screen Names (the screen names you’ve added to your account, and the service they’re associated with)
- Searches (searches you’ve made on Facebook)
- Shares (ex: a news article you've shared with others on Facebook using the Share button or link)
- Status Updates (any status updates you’ve posted)
- Work (any current information you’ve added to Work in the About section)
- Vanity URL (your Facebook URL (ex: username or vanity for your account)
Should you delete Facebook?
This is a personal decision that we can't decide for you. If you decide to permanently delete Facebook, we explain how to do that here. However, keep in mind that since the Cambridge Analytica scandal emerged, Facebook has laid out a three-step plan to rebuilding user trust. The most important change is that Facebook will soon remove developer access to your data if you haven’t used an app in three months.
Plus, it will reduce the data you give an app when you sign in - to only your name, profile photo, and email address. So, even though different developers in the past could request access to different amounts of data, which you likely unwittingly granted, going forward, most of the data points listed above will not be available to them. But let's not forget that Facebook will still collect and store all this data on you.
It also owns other companies, like WhatsApp and Instagram, which collect and store your data. If you want to hide some of your data from these services right now, you can revoke third-party app permissions to your data and then disable a service's access to your mic, camera, SMS, contacts, location, etc (via your device's settings for that service). Better yet, you could even go 'off the grid', but that's not realistic.
Thankfully, people are starting to wake up. It's only a matter of time before all these services and apps stop creeping on us so much. We realise they need our data and capitalise on it by selling it to advertisers, but enough is enough. We, as their users, aren't a product.