Would you consider Facebook to be popular? It’s an interesting question. It’s like asking people if they think McDonalds is popular. These days Facebook is used by one in every four people in the world, yet there are very few people that will actively come to the social media giant’s defense, let alone admit to spending nearly half of their time online on the site (either via an Internet browser or via an app).
For a large section of the Facebook-using public, it is a big part of their lives. This means that Facebook has a lot of data on them. Not just their personal information--they got that when they signed up--no, it’s data kept about their interactions that are the most valuable to companies, including Facebook. Therefore, it is essential that the users still have some semblance of control over their information. For today’s blog, we will be going into depth about how users can take control over their Facebook identities and work to protect their privacy online.
The first thing you need to know is how to download everything you’ve ever told Facebook about yourself. Facebook will likely know a lot more about you than you’ve told it, so we’ll be nabbing that information too. In 2018, when the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke, it was found that third-party Facebook app developers were selling the data siphoned from Facebook. Since then, Facebook has promised to increase transparency, but as of this writing not much has changed to support the fulfillment of that strategy.
One way they have done this, however, is by making personal profile information available to account users. It’s actually pretty easy to download, too. Let’s look at the steps, first through a browser, and then through the Facebook app.
On a desktop or laptop:
From the Facebook mobile app:
The download takes some time (as most people who have used Facebook regularly for years will have a lot of information to collect and download). It can be anywhere from a few hundred MB to several GB of data.
If you are following along at home, you may be waiting for a while. In the interim, let’s talk about the other options on the Your Facebook Information page on the desktop:
Access Your Information - Giving you access to everything Facebook knows about you from within Facebook, this feature categorizes this info into Posts, Photos, and Location. You get a tour around Facebook to see your information. This is useful, but what we really want 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. If you want to find some of your old posts from over the years, this is a great way to do it.
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.
Once the file has been successfully downloaded, you can begin to sift through the profile to find just how much Facebook knows about you.
There are the things you’d expect such as all of your posts, your photos, and your media.
You may be surprised about several other pieces of information that Facebook has on you. They include two unnerving revelations:
Facebook tracks your location history - If you have Facebook on your mobile device, they can tell you exactly where you were at any time, by tracking your mobile device. They can see when you leave your house in the morning and when you return after work. They knew which stores I went into and at what time I was there.
You can see advertisers that have uploaded your information - Wait, what? Under the Ads section, you can see a complete list of companies that already had your information and ran ads targeting you on Facebook.
We get that the more information that Facebook has about us, the more they can use it in their little plan for world domination. Sure, Facebook’s list of improper and highly questionable actions is pages long, and likely won’t shrink, at least until they are slapped with an antitrust suit and forced to separate their holdings. They own Instagram. They own WhatsApp. They are sharing all the information they want with whomever they wish. They are doing it legally, but not very ethically. All this is true.
It still is the best site in the world to reconnect with your friends and family, interact with local businesses, join groups of people that have similar interests, and for marketing your business.
Check back for our next part in our three-part Facebook series as we review all of Facebook’s current privacy settings and give you a look at how to better protect your identity on Facebook, and online.
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!