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Home / Tips and Tricks / How to Download Your Facebook Data (and 6 Surprising Things I Found)

How to Download Your Facebook Data (and 6 Surprising Things I Found)

I know many people in the security industry, and I know many people who like Facebook. However, there is not much overlap between these groups. As someone in both groups, I'm an odd one. Many security experts always control the social network or are currently advocating to delete it. I carefully follow security issues and products as antivirus tools, and I also use Facebook, but carefully. I do not see a need to delete my Facebook account. But now Facebook has made it so easy to download all the social networking about me, I continued with that process. I understood the resulting archive, I encountered some surprises, both positive and different.

I'm careful, really I'm

I've known it for many years with Facebook, I'm not the customer, I'm the product. I keep my profile private except for friends. I do not put much in my visible profile, and not everything I show is true. For example, while it is true that I studied existentialism at college, I'm not really a pasta safari; I have not been "touched by his needless appendages". I never want to click on links that seem shady. And I maintain a security package that warns of a dangerous link coming over my radar.

I never play Facebook games; You would be surprised, or scared, how much computer games can be collected. I had to silence a family member because of a Farmville account that kept pinging on me to play. I've been known to try some stupid quizzes, but only those who ask you questions to figure out, say which game of thrones will kill you. Even then, the questions are better not the kind of things that can answer your security issues. The quizzes that offer to scan your Facebook data and give you a result? It's married! I do not touch them.

I never use Facebook (or my email account) to log in to websites. If you do, make your Facebook password a single point of error. An exposure and all your accounts are open. Instead, I use a password manager to create strong, unique passwords for each site.

But being careful is not enough. Slack security with my friends may possibly make my information public. So I tightened my settings so that Facebook did not share my data. I went all-out, chose the option to completely disable the sharing platform. Facebook offered direct warnings about how it would enable my apps to be disabled, and prevent me from logging in with my Facebook permission. I logged and went on. Now I'm fine, right? Well maybe.

Download your archive

Today it's easy to download an archive of all data Facebook has on you. (At least they say that's all …) Well, that's quite easy. You have to go through several steps, which are in place to prevent someone from stealing your archive. How I did this and how to get your own archive.

 Facebook File Settings

  1. Log in to Facebook, click the bottom triangle icon in the upper right and select Settings.
  2. On the General Settings page, click on the last item, the link to download a copy of your data.
  3. Facebook warns that data collection may take a while. Click Start My Archive.
  4. On the next page, click Start My Archive again and wait for a notification that it's ready.
  5. Download your Facebook archive.

Please note that you must enter your Facebook password twice during this process, as this is sensitive information. Facebook also warns you to protect the downloaded data because it contains sensitive material. Your best bet would be to encrypt data when you do not study it actively.

No surprises to boot

When you download the downloaded archive, you will find a folder containing a file INDEX.HTM plus folders called html messages, photos and videos. Ignore the folders for now; just start the INDEX.HTM and start exploring.

You start on the profile page, with general information about you and your Facebook account. This includes the exact moment you started with Facebook (Thursday 28 June, 2007 at 08.1

5 PDT in my case) and your address (if you specified it), birthday, gender, hometown, and so on. It does not differ between public details and those you have done privately.

In my archive, everyone I've identified as family members, all three dozen of them, is also listed. Family connections are a big part of what keeps me on Facebook. The lists of music, books, movies, restaurants and websites I've wanted are short; I do not tend to give similarities in these areas. But the list of other likes is more interesting. Apparently I have liked more than 60 pages, from Notorious RBG to Thic Nhat Hanh to "The Official Petition to Establish" Hella "as the SI Prefix for 10 ^ 27." At least Facebook does not have a hellabyte of data about me …

This page also contains all the groups I belong to. It's a bigger list than I expected, mostly because at least half of them have not had any activity for several years. I'm not sure there's any benefit to actively disconnect from moribund groups.

Friends and Non-Friends

By clicking on the Friends link, I received a list of all my Facebook friends, sorted from newest to oldest. No surprise there! But I rolled down longer, I found a lot more. It is also listed: Sent friend requests, received friend requests, rejected friend requests, and deleted friends. It is right. Facebook knows all you've been expecting, and ever your friend request that you have denied or been ignored.

I dumped the list to Excel for analysis, because that's what I do. I found that several dozen of the records appear in more than one category, and that some of these duplicates seem to tell a story. A few years ago, I cleaned my friend's list down to something manageable, but later added some of the cleaned people back. And there are de-removed friends, but later friends. Others were imminent, rejected friend request followed later by received friend request (which I ignored).

Possibly the most interesting category involves people who appeared in the Received Friend Request list and nobody else. That means I received the request and ignored it without actively reducing. I acknowledge that the transfer of friend request is over. And after ignoring requests for a while, it becomes difficult to actively review and reject the unwanted. To the 70 people in that category, sorry!

In the tail end of the list I found some other smaller categories. I have exactly a Followee, meaning there is a semifinal figure that I follow without actually being FB friends. You can have more. Facebook's analysis of my friendship places me in Friend Peer Group called "Established Adult Life." Why? Maybe for advertising?

Who are these contacts?

The Friends page is meaningful, but it contains more information than I thought it would. But the Contact Info Info completely mystifies me. It lists hundreds of people, without any obvious arrangement, along with one, two or three phone numbers. Who are these people, and where did they come from? The list also includes entries for people who no longer live, some of those deceased before I ever joined Facebook.

I dumped the list in Excel as I could actually call the phone. It accounts for only 10 percent of the list. About 6 percent of contacts appear twice, most with the same phone number. Almost all names seem at least vaguely familiar, but not via Facebook.

 Facebook Archive Contact Info

For a sanitation check, I used an Excel formula to flag all names from my list of friends that are also listed. Contacts. It accounts for 11 percent of my friends. If you look in the other direction, because there are more contacts than friends, only 6.5 percent of my contacts match the Friends list.

I'm not sure how Facebook got this list of contacts and their phone numbers. I must have allowed it to see my contacts on any platform, but even then I usually keep email addresses (especially absent in the list), not phone numbers. It's a pity!

My entire timeline briefly

At first, I was not busy with the page reached by clicking on the Timeline. Like many, I often post a picture with a snarky comment. The timeline view skips the pictures, and the sneaky comments are not lonely. Then I hit Ctrl + End, to go to the end of the page. Wow!

Any posts I've ever made on Facebook are here in the timeline. I do not know if it is possible to go so far back in the Facebook user interface. If possible, it would take hours, maybe days, to roll down, down, down. I found the almost ten-year records fascinating. The post "Feels Chilled After Cycling 10 Miles In The Rain Sunday To See Amgen Riders Start The First Hundred Miles Ride" reminded me of the excitement of watching the opening of the first Amgen Tour of California bike race. And I was proud to remember my adult daughter's college success, the Grand Prize in a regional animation competition.

Even in this practical form with a long page, it would be too much to take care of the entire timeline. However, if you want to check out just when a particular event occurred, an event you published on Facebook can easily search the page for details. In fact, it's an index for your entire Facebook history. What an unexpected tax is this?

Each photo, uneven

Clicking on images gives you a similar list, a timeline for each photo or album you've ever submitted. It includes date for album and any comments, but not the text you shared with the album. When you click on the individual pictures, you will not see the dates unless the photo itself has comments. Facebook reports a fleet (to me) meaningless information. Camera mask and model. Orientation, width and height. F-stop, ISO and focal length. In my oldest pictures, these are all worthless because they are often either empty or zero. I could not figure out why some iPhone images contain a modicum of information while others do not get anything.

Some photos appear automatically in predefined folders such as Mobile Photos, Timeline Images, and Profile Images. As with images in your handmade folders, they show the non-usable camera data, followed by any comments.

 Facebook Archive Pumpkin Recognition


For some pictures, Facebook provides a link with the Face Recognition heading. Clicking the link gives a set of unimaginable numbers and raw data. That all these were pictures of Halloween pumpkins do not inspire confidence.

In my opinion, Facebook could handle this much better. Suppress camera information except when requested. Include date for a photo. And when I snap a photo and send it, include the text in the mail with the photo.

Small Screen Video

Click Videos, as expected, get a list of all videos you've uploaded, from newest to oldest, with a thumbnail of 284 x 160 pixels. You also get the date and time of the video and any comments. However, when I clicked on a video, I got a surprise.

The Facebook archive stores videos as 400 with 224 MP4 files; It does not link to the full size video you sent. When I launched one of them, I found that the sound worked well, but the video itself showed only changing color bands. I tried half a dozen videos, and the same thing happened to all of them.

It was under Firefox. When I opened the same page in Chrome or Edge, the video was played well. Internet Explorer did not attempt to record internally but instead suggested that you open the video in the Movie and TV app. Movie & TV blew the video up to full screen, making it blurry, but it worked. I'm not sure what the problem is with Firefox, but there are many other browsers to watch your archive.

 Facebook Archive Video Trouble

19659004] What if your real desire is to find the full-scale original video you uploaded? You can not get there right from the archive, but it can be a help. Check the date under the desired video and open the list of videos directly in your Facebook account online. Guess how far you're going to roll down. Click on a video and check the date in the post that appears. Scroll up or down as needed to attach the desired date. It's not ideal, but not too difficult.

Ads and more ads

Facebook is available to postpone you and other users with ads. Each time you click on an ad, it's another data point for your profile. The first thing you see when you click the Ads link is a list of all topics that Facebook likes to interest you. In my case, the list goes to more than five dozen items. Some sense: coffee, California, data security, network security, journalism, Alejandro Jodorowsky. Others have me scratch, things like water, landform, watermelon and orders of interbeing (what?). But it's the subjects that only inform about which ads Facebook is influencing on my flow.

More interesting are the following sections, Ad History. This is simply a list of ads and sponsored posts that you've clicked on recently. I'm not sure about the time period; The oldest in my diet is from about seven weeks ago. It can also be a fixed number of the latest ad clicks. In my archive the total number lists appear at the suspected circular number 100. Yes, I confess that I clicked 100 ads. To be fair, I avoid clicking unsupported "Sponsored posts," but sometimes I click on ads shared by friends.

At the end, there is the "Advertisers with your contact information" archive, eight of them, in my case. I recognize most of them, but I'm not sure how they got my contact information, or what it means they did. But a couple are completely unknown. I'm very deliberate not Googling these, that it would just give The Watchers more information.

A Mess of Messages

Not surprisingly, Facebook keeps track of every conversation you agree with Facebook Messenger. All calls are displayed when you click Messages. And the resulting page is almost completely useless.

My archive contains a list of almost 200 names and namespaces, without noticeable order. To view a conversation, click on the name. Very few have no conversations associated with them at all. Others try messenger chat from people i do not know. There is no way to tell if a particular name or group leads to a real conversation.

Checking names where I know I have a Messenger story, I found that it really lists every exchange, back to the very first. The messages are displayed in reverse chronological order, so to read a single conversation, you must scan the date / time stamps to find the initiating message and then read from bottom to top. What a mess! And if you remember that you had a conversation about a particular subject, but forget what you were chatting with, forget about it. There is no way to search except by opening all names and searches.

Facebook, this could be so much better! Give us a list of names, yes, but show the number of messages associated with each one. Let's sort by name or with number of messages. When we open the list of messages for a particular person, show them in the oldest to the last order, and use visual cue to show the beginning of each new call. Let's finally look through all messages. Now like would be a useful list of messages!

Events and Pokes

I'm sure you've received invitations to lots of events via Facebook. If I get an invitation to a real personal event, I make an active point to choose accept or decline. But if I'm just not interested, maybe because the event is impossible remote, or sounds boring, I do not usually do anything. Surprise! The Events page lists each event invitation you've ever received, even those you completely ignored. I do not see much value in this list, but it seems harmless.

Similarly, both worthless and harmless list of pokes are. Who pokes someone these days?

Security Overload

I thought that clicking Security would show my Facebook security settings, maybe with a history of changes. Boy, I was wrong!

This page starts with a confusing list of active sessions. It listed 17 active sessions, one (correctly) identified as Facebook for iPad and 16 marked Unknown. Who knows what to do about it?

The following list of account activity proved to be even more insignificant. An apparently infinite list of records reports in painful details about events like Session updated (this is the predominant majority, for me), completed web session and login. The slightly interesting entry reported exact date and time for the latest password change. These items only return in two years.

 Facebook Archive Security

Next up is a list of recognized machines, including records for two iPads and two iPhones. Which? I have had several. Date / time stamps were no help; all four say that they were created December 31, 19459032 1969 at 4:00 PM PST. That date seems unlikely. None of the latest modified dates are newer than 2014, and the data contains no identification information, in addition to the IP address.

I found some usage for a list of logins and logins in the previous year. A list of login protection data reveals cookies and IP addresses used or updated in the last year. The list ends with calculated locations based on IP addresses, only single decimal latitude and longitude, without link to a map view.

In fact, the very end is a short section that may be useful to some. The Administrative Items section lists things like changes to your password, changes to your security response, and something called "Checkpoint completed."

So, it's true that Facebook keeps painfully detailed information about your logins and devices. You can watch it until your eyes cross. A security expert can dump this data to detect potential hacking, but the average consumer finds some interest.

Things I Did not Know Facebook knew

Before I recently experimented, I did not really think of what- all information Facebook likes about me. Obviously, it must keep my posts and pictures, and I know that it uses some techniques to decide which ads to show. Downloading and searching through my Facebook archive was a real eye opener. I encountered real surprises, some positive, some negative, some just … surprisingly.

  1. Timeline archive can be a great index for your entire Facebook history. It's almost impossible to roll back a few years in your live Facebook feed, but in the archive you can easily search the entire timeline.
  2. Facebook not only know my friends. It knows everyone who has asked to be a friend, even though I ignored the request. It is known to everyone I have unfriended, and every friend request I have rejected. Maybe it's not that bad, but I was surprised.
  3. The archive list of videos shows great from newest to oldest, with date / time stamp for each video. But you can not see the current record, the video appears in a small rectangle, and it does not seem to work in Firefox.
  4. Some things in Facebook's list of "my" advertisements are meaningful; others seem on the wall. The revelation I've clicked on 100 ads in less than two months is an eye-opener.
  5. Something I did ever gave Facebook permission to capture all kinds of unrelated contact information. It's strange that it only shows phone numbers, even though I have never called 90 percent of these people, and a number of them are dead. Mazy.
  6. Your archive lists anyone you've ever chatted using Messenger, which sounds like it would be useful. But the information is unorganized and difficult to follow, and there is no way to search for your messages.

If you have not done so, scroll back to the top of this article and follow the instructions to download your own archive. Page through it, think of it, do your best to get past the badly designed parts. The archive is not only proof of what Facebook is about you. You can also make it a useful resource, provided it does not inspire you to simply remove Facebook.

If you assume you're Facebook, I strongly recommend you bite the hill and disable the platform that allows Facebook to share your data. Yes, that means giving up your games and apps, the nasty little spies. And you must log in to websites with unique passwords. But this is good things! With these precautions, you can continue to use Facebook and still retain (most of) your privacy.

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