For many, Facebook is a huge part of daily life, whether you want to think of it that way or not. There are more than two billion active users. That means if you pluck any 4 random human beings from anywhere in the world, at least one of them likely logged into Facebook today.
It’s important to know that you still have control over your information, so in today’s blog we’re going to talk about a few ways you can take control over your online identity on the world’s largest social network.
Grab Everything that Facebook Knows About You
First and foremost, you should download everything you’ve ever told Facebook about you.
Of course, Facebook might know more about you than you’ve told it, and we’ll be grabbing all of that information too. After 2018’s Cambridge Analytica scandal, where it was exposed that a third-party Facebook app developer was selling the personal data of Facebook users, the social network vowed to be more transparent about the data they collect. We’re all for that.
Facebook has even made it pretty easy to do so. We’ll provide the steps if you are on a computer first, and after that we’ll walk you through how to do it from the mobile app.
On a desktop or laptop:
- Log in to your Facebook account.
- If you are on a desktop or laptop, click the down arrow on the top right and go to Settings.
- On the left, click Your Facebook Information.
- Facebook will present you with five options. Look for Download Your Information.
- Click View, Facebook will give you a screen where you can choose the date range and format of the data. Since in this case, we want to download everything, we’re going to set the Date Range to All of my data and set Media Quality to High. This means we’ll get a higher quality version of all of our photos and videos in the download.
- Click Create File and Facebook will start building the download. This can take a while, but Facebook will give you a notification when your data is ready for download.
- Once Facebook gives you the notification, click it and Download your data.
From the Facebook mobile app:
- Tap the 3-bar hamburger icon in the top right of the app.
- Scroll down and tap Settings & Privacy, and then tap Settings.
- Tap Download Your Information.
- Leave all of the options checked, and scroll down. Ensure the Date Range is set to All of my data and that Media Quality is set to High.
- Tap Create File and Facebook will give you a notification when the data is ready for download.
In my experience, it took Facebook about an hour before I received the notification. Also, keep in mind, depending on how active you are on Facebook, this file can get pretty big. For some it could be a few hundred MB, and in other cases it could be several GB of data.
While we wait, let’s talk about the other options on the Your Facebook Information page on the desktop:
Access Your Information - This lets you view virtually everything Facebook knows about you from within Facebook. It breaks down all of the data into several categories, such as Posts, Photos, and Location. Essentially these options just send you around Facebook to show you your information. This is nice, but our goal here is to own a copy of all of our Facebook data outside of Facebook.
Activity Log - This redirects you to all of your Facebook posts and your Timeline Review. This is a nice way to review your old posts over the years, but this area only scratches the surface of what Facebook really knows about you.
Managing Your Data - This area is essentially a glorified FAQ for managing your data. The page will ask if you want help with Facebook or Instagram, and then feed you a few predefined questions to choose from, and attempt to send you to the right area on Facebook to adjust the settings. It’s kind of a round-about way to manage your permission settings or report an issue.
Deactivation and Deletion - Like the name suggests, this area lets you either deactivate your account temporarily, or permanently delete your Facebook account.
What Does Facebook Know About You?
Once you’ve downloaded the file, you can dig through things to really get a feel for how much Facebook knows about you. There are the obvious things, like your posts and photos.
Then things get pretty… interesting.
For example, Facebook can track your location history. I was able to pull up a day two weeks ago and see exactly when I left my house to come to the office, when I left the office for lunch, and when I went downtown to run errands after work. In some cases, it knew exactly where I went (right down to the name of the store) but in most cases, it said “Place in Gaithersburg.”
Under Ads, you can see a list of advertisers who have uploaded a contact list with your information. In other words, these advertisers previously had your information already and then possibly ran ads targeting you. It’s actually pretty unnerving… or fun, depending on your view on life and privacy. Let’s be honest, it’s mostly unnerving.
Wait! Before You Jump Ship and Quit Facebook Forever…
Yes, Facebook knows a lot of information about us. Yes, Facebook has been irresponsible with what they know and the power they have. With that said, with a quarter of the world population active on the social network, we’re all in this boat together. There are a lot of positives to Facebook too, and as long as you are careful with the information you feed it (and understand where Facebook gets all of its other information about you), you can still take advantage of all of the positive aspects of Facebook without feeling like Mark Zuckerberg is watching you sleep.
Remember, Facebook is still a great platform for:
- Reconnecting with friends and family
- Following businesses and organizations you like
- Joining groups and sharing interests with new people
- Marketing your business and keeping in touch with customers
We’re going to review all of Facebook’s current privacy settings in a future blog, and walk you through how to protect your identity without feeling like you need to change your name and move to a cabin in the mountains.
Did you review your downloaded Facebook data? Did you learn something about yourself that you didn’t know before? If you find anything juicy that you’d like to share with us in the comments, please do! Otherwise, stay tuned for our next post!