There’s nothing very new about a Facebook feature that allows you to download all your data from the platform.
But it’s had intense attention since revelations this month that tens of millions of profiles were harvested in 2016 by Cambridge Analytica, a London-based voter profiling company, before the U.S. election.
Users of some Android devices were startled to find that Facebook had a complete record of all of their phone calls — when, to whom, and how long.
So, what does Facebook know about you? The process of finding out is simple enough:
Click on Settings (upper right-hand corner)
There may be a delay.
The folder may be big once you unzip it — mine weighed in at 224 megabytes, with over 3,300 files in 239 folders — so it may be best not to try this on your phone.
What arrived was all the photos and videos I’ve uploaded since I joined the platform in May of 2007, as well as all my messages and status updates.
It also included a long list of ad topics that advertisers could use to target me. Mine are very, very random, including fiddlehead ferns (Who sells fiddlehead ferns through Facebook ads? How would you even do this?) Lexus (no), Magdalena, New Mexico (why?) and the Green Bay Packers (definitely not). So if somebody has been trying to invade my privacy to target ads, they’ve been doing a terrible job.
Facebook also knows every time you’ve logged on, ever, using what device, and from what IP address.
WATCH: Facebook has promised to “do better” in several newspaper advertisements taken out on Monday, but failed to mention the firm Cambridge Analytica by name in them.
There was also a complete list of friends – current friends, ex-friends, declined would-be friends, but not as far as I can tell people who declined or ignored my own friend requests or quietly dropped me as a friend. Perhaps this is just as well.
The bulk of my data was over 3,000 photos — of our kids, of vacations, of long-gone canoe trips.
Losing access to this kind of material is a major reason people cite for not wanting to delete their Facebook accounts.
“The online memory lane … might be the hardest one for many Facebook users,” a recent Quartz story pointed out. “The platform has been a repository of memories for more than a decade.”
Downloading your Facebook data lets you delete your Facebook account — if that’s what you want to do — while also safeguarding a copy of all the photos and videos you’ve uploaded over the years, and the associated text — photo captions, for example.
It also lets you keep a complete list of Facebook friends, something else you won’t have access to as an ex-user.
Even if you’re not thinking of quitting the platform, it’s a good idea to download your data anyway, if you’d regret losing access to material you’ve uploaded.
Your material on Facebook (or on any other cloud) is vulnerable. Facebook could decide that hosting older photos is a cost centre, for example, or your data could become inaccessible for any number of reasons beyond your ability to control or predict.
Images securely stored on a computer you control, on the other hand, are as safe as digital information is ever likely to be.