Kelly thought downloading all her Facebook data would be a great first step to truly understanding what information the platform has on her. The results? Weird, wonderful, surprising and a little scary.
Despite being a bit of a self-proclaimed data nerd, I’m admittedly a bit lax with my data security. All too often I authorise websites to have access to my personal information, but I don’t often think of the consequences of giving a social media giant this information.
So I decided to teach myself a thing or two about data security. Before we jump into the wonders of the land of Facebook data, if you’d like to download all your Facebook data there is actually a surprisingly helpful help page dedicated to this very topic (who would have thought!) Most of the other big social media giants have one too —here’s Instagram’s and Twitter’s in case you’re not on Facebook.
All aboard my data discovery journey.
1. It’s easy!
It was much easier than I thought it would be to download it all! This is both comforting and terrifying. Comforting because I have easy access to any data that relates to me, and can understand what Facebook does with this data. Terrifying because if it’s this easy for me, how easy would it be for someone else to get it?
2. My online life isn’t as big as I thought it would be
My whole social media presence came neatly packed into a zip folder of about 500 megabytes and organised into easily understandable categories. It’s like someone Marie Kondo’ed me. I feel strangely concerned that my online presence fits into such tidy little boxes, but it’s quite soothing when you’re trying to explore your personal data.
My downloaded Facebook folder, very neatly arranged into relevant sub-categories. Thanks, Facebook.
3. I give a lot of people and companies my data
It’s not just Facebook who has my data, I’ve managed to give it to a whole bunch of companies who then upload me to Facebook for advertising. I can’t say I remember giving my data to Adelaide Ownership, Lifestyle and Culture… whatever that is.
A very handy list of all the advertisers who have my contact details, alphabetically ordered for efficiency. This comes up us a webpage when you click into the document.
4. Targeting words are weird
There’s a long list of “my interests” that Facebook ads target me with. My most fascinating? Hemlines.
Also, sure, I like birthdays, but I’m pretty sure that can be said about 90% of the population. I think Facebook may have a bit of work to do to make this a bit more useful for advertisers.
5. Remember poking? Facebook sure does!
For those of you who have never used that functionality, you could click a button which “poked” someone, and commonly they would return that “poke”. It was pointless but very hilarious to 16-year-old me. Facebook has a full transaction list of all of my “poking”. It may also have been used as a flirting tactic at times, and from what I can tell of past me that looks about right.
6. Facebook has my phone contact list
I’ve unknowingly given them other people’s data too. Sorry everyone in my contact list, Facebook has your phone number and may call you.
7. Facebook has a log of every message and/or comment you’ve ever made
What a swirly rabbit hole this process was! I spent a good hour looking through old comments and messages with friends and it reminded me that I’m glad I only got Facebook at 16 rather than 12. How embarrassing were my teenage years…
8. Facebook keeps your search history
I can work out my dating or romantic interest history by who I’ve stalked over time. You know when “Person A” comes up 12 times in a row you must have been keen.
9. Facebook has a history of every event you’ve clicked interested, maybe or going to
This list would be quite handy if I was trying to stalk someone and/or if I was the government trying to track down a criminal. Note to self: stop clicking any event buttons.
10. Overall it is very overwhelming!
The sheer amount of data that I’ve handed over to a company that may or may not have my best interests at heart is overwhelming. It’s definitely made me think twice about my online behaviour and managing data differently.
I’ve made a bit of a list in case you’re also interested in managing your data differently.
Think about using a password manager
This is a vault for passwords instead of trying to remember them or using the same password for everything. It is encrypted and can be used to save and create strong passwords. Check out LastPass or 1Password, there are plenty out there so do your homework!
Consider choosing login on other websites
Maybe don’t choose to log into another website with your Facebook or Google account. You may be authorising use of your data unknowingly.
Think before agreeing
That game you’re thinking of playing on Facebook or that app you want to download, actually stop and flick through the Terms and Conditions, you may be letting some Russian company use your photo for marketing.