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The Benefits of Downloading Information Facebook and How to Do It Safely

After the news broke last week that data firm Cambridge Analytica accessed information from 50 million Facebook users without their knowledge, I wanted to know more about what information Facebook has on me.

Facebook emailed me a link to download my data. The process took about 10 minutes. (The downloading time depends on how much data you've generated.) The data is segmented into groups: like ads, contact info, events, messages, timeline, and more.

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I started with the ads tab and learned which advertisers possessed my contact information. They included Bed, Bath and Beyond, Target, and Marriott Rewards ... and a few crowdfunding sites I had never heard of. One of my male colleagues had a few surprising advertisers collecting his data: Rod Stewart, Sally Beauty and Cyndi Lauper. (He said he's not a fan of any of those brands.)

On Sunday, the company directed CNN to a new blog post addressing data related to calls and texts. Facebook stressed that it never sells this data and that it does not "collect the content of your text messages or calls. ... You are always in control of the information you share with Facebook."

I know a lot of people in the security industry, and I know a lot of people who enjoy Facebook. However, there's not much overlap between these groups. As someone who's in both groups, I'm an oddity. Many security experts either always steered clear of the social network or are currently advocating deleting it. I closely follow security topics and products such as antivirus utilities, and I also use Facebook, but carefully. I don't see any need to delete my Facebook account. But now that Facebook has made it so easy to download everything the social network has about me, I went ahead with that process. Perusing the resulting archive, I ran into some surprises, both positive and otherwise.

But being careful myself isn't enough. Sloppy security on the part of my friends can potentially make some of my information public. So I tightened up my settings to keep Facebook from sharing my data. I went all-out, choosing the option to totally disable the sharing platform. Facebook offered dire warnings about how doing so would disable my apps, and keep me from logging in using my Facebook credentials. I smiled and went ahead. Now I'm fine, right? Well, maybe.

Note that you'll have to supply your Facebook password twice during this process, because this is sensitive information. Facebook also warns that you should protect the downloaded data, as it contains sensitive material. Your best bet would be to encrypt the data when you're not actively studying it.

Once you unzip the downloaded archive, you'll find you have a folder containing a file INDEX.HTM plus folders named html, messages, photos, and videos. Ignore the folders for now; just launch INDEX.HTM and start exploring.

You start at the Profile page, with general information about you and your Facebook account. This includes the exact moment you started with Facebook (Thursday, June 28, 2007 at 8:15 a.m. PDT in my case) as well as your address (if you entered it), birthday, gender, hometown, and so on. It doesn't distinguish between public details and those you've made private.

How to download your Facebook information and data in 2023

Download a copy of your information on Facebook Facebook Help Center

Accessing and Downloading Your Facebook Information Facebook

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

How to download your Facebook data and delete your account - CNET

How to download all your Facebook data in just a few minutes - Business Insider

How to download your Facebook photos, messages, and other data - Digital Trends

How to download a copy of everything Facebook knows about you - CNBC

How to download your Facebook profile information and data - TechRepublic

How to download your Facebook data before deleting your account - Mashable

How to download your personal data from Facebook, Google, and more - Wired UK

How to download your entire Facebook history - The Verge

How to download all the information Facebook has on you - The Guardian

How to download your Facebook data and what you may find - CNN

How to download your Facebook chat history for safekeeping - MakeUseOf

How to download your Facebook contacts, photos, videos, and more - Lifewire

How to download your Facebook Messenger conversations - Android Authority

How to download your Facebook posts, comments, reactions, and more - ZDNet

How to download your Facebook ads data and insights - Social Media Examiner

How to download your Facebook Marketplace transactions and ratings - TechRadar

How to download your Facebook stories and highlights - Later

How to download your Facebook live videos and captions -

How to download your Facebook page insights and analytics - Hootsuite

How to download your Facebook groups data and activity - GroupTrack CRM

How to download your Facebook pixel data and events - PixelYourSite

How to download your Facebook location history and settings - iMore

How to download your Facebook security and login information - Tom's Guide

How to download your Facebook notifications and settings - Android Central

How to download your Facebook friends list and requests - Alphr

How to download your Facebook albums and photos - TechJunkie

How to download your Facebook videos and watch them offline - Guiding Tech

How to download your Facebook comments plugin data and settings - WPBeginner

How to download your Facebook profile picture and cover photo - Beebom

How to download your Facebook timeline review and settings - TechUntold

How to download your Facebook search history and suggestions - Gadgets Now

How to download your Facebook tags and tag review settings - Online Tech Tips

How to download your Facebook likes and reactions data -

How to download your Facebook stories archive and settings - Gadgets 360

How to download your Facebook marketplace insights and settings - Marketplace Pulse

How to download your Facebook lead ads data and forms - LeadsBridge

How to download your Facebook app dashboard data and settings - Stack Overflow

How to download your Facebook messenger rooms data and settings - Pocket-lint

How to download your Facebook dating profile and matches - Bustle

How to download your Facebook gaming data and settings - GameSpot

How to download your Facebook news feed preferences and settings - TechBoomers

How to download your Facebook watchlist data and settings - Cord Cutters News

How to download your Facebook events data and settings - Eventbrite

How to download your Facebook fundraisers data and settings - Classy

The Friends page makes sense, though it includes more information than I thought it would. But the Contact Info page totally mystifies me. It lists hundreds of people, in no apparent order, along with one, two, or three phone numbers. Who are these people, and where did they come from? The list even includes entries for people no longer living, some of them deceased before I ever joined Facebook.

Clicking Photos gets you a similar list, a timeline of every photo or album you ever posted. It includes the date for albums, and any comments, but not the text you shared along with the album. When you click through to the individual photos, you don't see the dates, unless the photo itself has comments. Facebook reports a raft of (to me) pointless information. Camera make and model. Orientation, width, and height. F-stop, ISO, and focal length. In my oldest photos, these are all the more useless because they're often either blank or zero. I couldn't figure out why some iPhone photos include a modicum of information, while others get nothing.

At the very end, the archive lists "Advertisers with your contact info," eight of them, in my case. I recognize most of them, though I'm not sure how they got my contact info, or what it means that they did. But a couple are completely unfamiliar. I'm very deliberately not Googling these, figuring that doing so might just give The Watchers more information.

Next up is a list of Recognized Machines, including entries for two iPads and two iPhones. Which ones? I've had several. The date/time stamps were no help; all four say they were created December 31, 1969 at 4:00 p.m. PST. That date seems unlikely. None of the last-modified dates are newer than 2014, and the entries include no identifying device information, beyond the IP address.

So, OK, it's true that Facebook keeps painfully detailed information about your logins and devices. You can look at it until your eyes cross. A security expert might dump this data to detect possible hacking, but the average consumer will find little of interest.

If you haven't yet done it, scroll back to the top of this article and follow the instructions to download your own archive. Page through it, think about it, do your best to get past the poorly designed parts. The archive isn't just evidence for you of what Facebook has on you. You can also make it a useful resource, assuming it doesn't inspire you to simply delete Facebook.

It's an easy-to-use, free-to-use platform that's almost nostalgic if you're a millennial. And, did you know, you can download Facebook data that shows nearly everything you've ever done since creating the account? Facebook keeps a record of everything you do on the platform, which means every user has their own, personal time capsule cataloguing every moment they decided to share online.

Facebook also records all your personal information, like relationships or places of work, and they store every change in your Facebook archive. If you have an ex-partner who you'd rather forget, downloading Facebook content will reveal when you started and ended the relationship with them - if you made it 'Facebook official.'

There's the option to download your Facebook data directly from the website or the app. The download from the website is most compatible with desktops or laptops - it's far easier to view, move, and change the downloaded files.

Scroll down and click on Settings & Privacy and then click on Settings. On that page, there's a panel on the left that has a long list of sub-categories within your Facebook settings to explore - but the one you're interested in is your Facebook information.

Click on that, and the first thing you'll see is the access your information tool. Here you'll find all the things you didn't realize Facebook was tracking. The access your information tool is an excellent way of exploring your data before you download it - we'll explain why that comes in handy further along.

Once you've explored the access your information tool, it's time to download all that data. Start by going back to your Facebook information page and then click on the third option - download your information.

Facebook will then present you with another list of options. At the top, you'll notice a section called Request Copy and another called Available Copies. For now, you're interested in Request Copy - the available copies section is like a Facebook backup for your downloads for a few days after the download is complete.

Just below those two buttons, you'll see you can customize the date range, format, and media quality. We recommend you select an HTML format and medium for the media quality. Opting for an HTML format will mean the data is easy to view once downloaded, and the medium for the media quality means the download won't be gigantic.

By default, if you went onto the next step without customizing your download, every part of your history is included in the Facebook download. But if you look just below the section that allows you to customize the date range and more, you'll notice your information.

Here, you can deselect anything you don't wish to be included in the download. Facebook Gaming, for example, might not be on your wish list. That's why it's wise to look through your Facebook information section first to see which sections you're most interested in downloading.

The time it takes for the download to finish varies depending on the data you've requested and the media quality. Facebook will display a message saying a copy of your information is being created. Just below that message is the option to cancel this process if you wish to.

Click on download, and it'll begin to download onto your desktop, ready for you to save and use. Facebook will ask you to enter your password once before it begins the download to your desktop.

Let's face it - you're not going to want to wait hours for your download to complete and then have to sit and sift through endless files to view the data you're actually interested in. Instead, you might be wondering how to download all Facebook photos.

The first option is to go through the same process listed above that takes you to the download your information section. Deselect everything other than the posts option. That will see you download everything you've posted to Facebook, including the all-important pictures, videos, statuses, and anything you're going to be interested in if you're taking a trip down memory lane.

You can also easily download pictures from your Facebook on a desktop by clicking on the image or album you wish to download, clicking on the three dots, and selecting download. That's the easiest way to download Facebook pictures if you don't want videos and posts to be included.


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