Whether you’re leaving Facebook for good or just curious about what data the social network has collected on you, you might want to download your Facebook data.
The option to download your Facebook data has existed since 2010, as Mark Zuckerberg made clear when he promised to fix Facebook after the Senate hearings of April 2018.
So let’s take a look at how to download your Facebook data, what’s included, and, perhaps most importantly, what’s not included.
How to Download Your Facebook Data/History
All Facebook users are able to request the data download via their General Account Settings. It’s not possible to use Facebook’s mobile apps to do this. Instead you’ll need to login to the desktop website using a browser:
- Open a new tab in your web browser and head to Facebook.com and login.
- Click on the downward arrow in the top-right corner and choose Settings, or head to Facebook.com/settings.
- At the bottom of the General tab click on “Download a copy of your Facebook data.“
- Select what you would like to include, or leave everything selected (default) then click Create File.
- Wait until your data is ready to download. You will receive a notification when it’s done.
- Click on the notification, review the file size, then click Download.
- Enter your account password to confirm your identity, then wait for the download to complete.
Your data will be delivered in a ZIP archive (how to extract files from a ZIP archive). The size of all my data was 178.5MB, which is about a decade’s worth of light use. This took around three minutes for Facebook to process and make available. If you’re a heavy user, expect to wait longer.
Customizing Your Facebook Data Download
There are a few options included when you click that Download a copy link on the General Account Settings tab. You can change:
- Date range: Handy if you don’t want to trawl through years of data to find something.
- Format: Choose between HTML (default) and JSON. If in doubt, leave it at HTML.
- Media quality: Higher will mean a larger download size, though this is still going to be worse than the quality of the original upload due to Facebook’s aggressive compression.
You can also exclude certain items from the download. If you want a slim download and don’t need your videos and photos, omit them and watch your download size tumble.
Exploring Your Downloaded Facebook Data
Once you’ve got your ZIP file downloaded, extract it and you’ll see a basic folder hierarchy that matches up with the items you selected or deselected earlier. You’re free to trawl through these folders, but it’s a lot easier to open index.html in the root folder.
This is essentially a front-end for all your data. You can click on individual sections to see the information contained within them, in chronological order. You can click your name in the top-right corner if you want to head back to the index.
Some of the more interesting (alarming?) troves of information are:
- Ads Interests: Essentially topics that Facebook describes as “most relevant to you.” This is worth a look since many of the categories probably don’t apply to you, at least that was the case with my data.
- Advertisers who’ve uploaded a contact list with your information: Facebook describes these as advertisers who “run ads using a contact list they’ve uploaded which includes contact info that you’ve shared with them or with one of their data partners.”
- Advertisers that you’ve interacted with: Just how ad-savvy are you?
- Messages: Including those you thought you’d deleted.
- Friends: Including juicy categories like Rejected friend requests and Removed friends you’d forgotten about.
- Calls and messages: Showing up for many Android users, as an iOS user I had nothing here.
What’s Not Included in Downloaded Facebook Data?
Facebook doesn’t give away everything it knows about you, just the things you’ve explicitly shared. There are some limited advertising flags, like your broader interests and adverts you’ve interacted with; but these don’t tell the whole story.
ProPublica identified over 52,000 unique “attributes” Facebook uses to classify its users. Most of these metrics, like “away from family” and “breastfeeding in public” do not appear in the Ad Interests section of your Facebook download.
Instead you’ll need to find the list titled “Your Categories” in the Ad Preferences section of your Facebook settings to see what Facebook thinks it knows about you. This is inferred data—descriptors used to categorise you based on all manner of interactions with Facebook services.
Other categories seem oddly empty in my own personal download. Location history was bare, despite my having checked in to venues and events on numerous occasions. What is Facebook doing with the GPS information it uses to track your logins and active sessions?
The social network clearly knows more about you than it includes in the download, and users need to be aware of this. We don’t know what data Facebook collects based on our browsing history—which profiles we visit and when, the groups we are most active in—but it’s almost certainly happening.
It’ll be interesting to see legislation evolve as the authorities continue to probe into Facebook’s handling of user data.
Downloading Other Facebook Photos and Videos
So what if you want to download a video or photo that you’ve been tagged in? Facebook does not include these in your data download, since they’re not technically yours. There are plenty of legitimate reasons you might want to grab media from the site. Fair use laws protect your right to use this content in many jurisdictions.
Downloading private Facebook videos is a little more difficult, since you’ll need to grab the page source code and paste it into a specific private video downloader. FBDown Private Video Downloader seems like the best bet in this instance.
We’ve shown you how to download Facebook photos before too, and most of these techniques involve use a desktop browser and the basic functionality of a webpage. If you’re looking for something a little more serious, try Ensky’s Album Downloader for Google Chrome.
Is It Time to Delete Facebook?
It’s fair to say that Facebook has something of an image problem at the moment. However, despite massive data breaches and seemingly insidious advertising practices, more people are using the service than ever before. Which is all kinds of crazy.
There are plenty of reasons to stop using Facebook right now, but there are also reasons to not delete your Facebook. So, the choice is yours. However, regardless of whether you decide to dump Facebook, there’s no reason not to at least download your data.
Image Credit: Christoph Scholz/Flickr