What I Learned From My Facebook Data — and Why You Need to See Yours

It's possible -- and enlightening -- to download your Facebook archive. Here's how and why you should find out everything the company knows about you.

What I Learned From My Facebook Data — and Why You Need to See Yours Photo by tongcom photographer / Shutterstock.com

The torrent of news about Facebook’s latest privacy scandal has unnerved everyone who has ever used the social media network. At the very least, it’s made them curious about their Facebook data, which might have been used by third parties tied to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

I’m among those who wants to know, so I went ahead and downloaded my Facebook archive. After doing so, I’m confident that downloading your own archive may give you some peace of mind — or at least educate you about the tech giant’s reach.

How to download your Facebook archive

You’ll find directions for accessing your Facebook archive all over the web now, from CNBC’s simple video to The Next Web’s detailed walk-through.

Facebook also offers directions on its “Downloading Your Info” page, where you can also learn more about your Facebook data.

What I learned

Your Facebook archive includes documents that collectively serve as a log of just about every move you’ve made on the social media network — and everything Facebook has learned about you from those moves.

Mine looks like this:

Each of those four folders contains a bunch of files — photos and videos I’ve uploaded to Facebook, direct messages I’ve sent and received on the website, and then some.

For example, there’s a list of every:

  • Person I’ve ever friended or unfriended, along with dates.
  • Event I have ever been invited to, along with the event dates and times and whether I accepted, declined or ignored each invitation.
  • Time I logged into and out of Facebook, along with the IP address of the computer I used.

I can go on and on, but you’ll get the best idea of the extent of information Facebook collects by downloading your own archive.

What it means for you

After reviewing your archive, you might also want to change your Facebook app settings so your phone contacts don’t end up in Facebook’s hands, too. Ars Technica reported recently that Facebook had pulled phone call and text message information from specific Android devices.

If you are concerned about Facebook reaching into your phone, however, you really ought to delete the app, as we explain in “4 Ways to Better Protect Your Personal Data on Facebook Today.” I did this years ago.

When you download the Facebook app, you give it permission to access a lot more than just the contacts on your phone. This is what I saw when I downloaded the Facebook app for illustration purposes — I did not proceed to hit “Accept”:

Do you really trust Facebook that much? The way I see it, this boils down to how much you trust a for-profit company with your personal life. And the question of trust is bigger than the clouds swirling around the Cambridge Analytica fiasco, Facebook’s privacy scandal du jour.

Think about it: Facebook provides its service to users for no charge, yet makes money hand over fist. The only way that’s possible is if you are not Facebook’s customer but Facebook’s product — what it sells, such as to advertisers. And the more Facebook knows about you, the more valuable a product you are.

As Money Talks News founder Stacy Johnson writes in “10 Golden Rules to Avoid Getting Scammed“:

“With other free things you find — especially online — consider the motivation of those offering it. If you’re being asked for a lot of personal information, that information could be sold — perhaps to someone you’d rather didn’t have it.”

What’s your take? Share your thoughts below or on Facebookor Twitter, if you rather.

Karla Bowsher
Karla Bowsher
I’m a freelance journalist and former newspaper reporter who has covered both personal and public finance. I've worked for a top 50 major metro daily and a community newspaper as well as ... More

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