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"I downloaded my Facebook data to see what all the fuss is about"


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The Cambridge Analytica scandal and Mark Zuckerberg’s subsequently shady silence followed by a supremely lacklustre apology hasn’t exactly inspired confidence in Facebook’s ridiculously large user base regarding who might have access to our data.

Out of equal parts paranoia and morbid curiosity, I downloaded my Facebook data to see exactly what it consists of. There’s been a lot of fearmongering and potentially fake news circulating about what exactly Facebook has on you so for all of you thinking of deleting your account, here’s a definitive breakdown for you.

An index sheet provides any personal information that you’ve given Facebook: email address, phone number, date of birth, city, any current or previous relationships (yikes), education and workplace. It also provides a list of all the groups you’ve ever been part of — the perfect way to bring back bad memories of every asshole who didn’t pull their weight in every group project in middle school.

There’s also a list of Activities and Interests: i.e. all those weird pages you liked back in the noughties. I’m talking stuff like “we dont talk anymore, but i'll never ever forget the times we had :’)” and “The awkward moment when a t.v series finishes and you don't know what to do with your life”. It also breaks these down into Films, TV, and Music categories. So far not so sinister — if advertisers want to know I liked The Vampire Diaries in 2010, they’re welcome to.

Now on to the part that people seem to be freaking out about: in a folder called HTML there’s a doc called “ads”, aka the juicy stuff. A list of Ads Topics is definitely what you’ll be most interested in. Here’s how companies profile you. At first, I thought they’d got me pretty spot on — I do like Star Trek: The Original Series, Contemporary R&B, and Lupita Nyong’o. On the other hand, my list also includes Mandy Capristo (who?!), UEFA Champion’s League (literally what the hell), and Paul Epworth (again, who?!). 

This begs the question of how accurate their algorithms are. Despite a fair few wildcards in there, my political alignments, my fields of study and work, ethnic background, and gender are all easily discernible from the available information, making targeted advertising a breeze for anyone from social media interns at New Look to Cambridge Analytica and everyone in between.

Ads History is another category, showing a complete history of ads I’ve clicked on, and when. Honestly, that part’s just an embarrassing exposé on how many Buzzfeed quizzes and links I’m susceptible to clicking during revision season. 

The only advertiser listed as having my contact info is O2, and that’s probably because of the number of concert tickets I buy through them. That made me feel pretty good that the list wasn’t longer!

The Contact Info doc has the names and numbers of the contacts from my phone — including WhatsApp contacts, and even contacts that I’ve deleted. Great for if you want to restore a bunch of contacts you lost when you got your new phone, but still pretty creepy.

The Events section has transcripts of all the events you’ve created, clicked attending, and declined. The whole description bit. Every birthday party from 2009. Every club night from 2016. It’s all there.

Another fun category: Friends. Don’t lie, this is the bit you’ve been waiting for. Here’s a definite list of the name of every FB friend you have, in order of the date you became friends. There’s also a Sent Friend Requests bit, which basically shows you everyone who’s ignored your request. You can get on your co-worker’s case about that one.

Declined Friend Requests is just sad … wow I’ve always wanted a list of all the weirdos who’ve just tried to randomly add me … oh wait no I haven’t. Removed Friends is an even more bizarre rollercoaster of a list: a bunch of names of people you must have known at some point but now have no memory of, peppered in with the occasional person you knew really well and unfriended for a really deep reason. 

Messages are all logged seemingly in no particular order, including a whole lot of spam I didn’t even know I was getting. You can see the history of group chats you’ve left, but only up until you left. Fair enough.

Photos and Videos are pretty much what you’d expect — organised by albums like they are on Facebook. I guess it’s not a bad thing to download all these just in case FB does decide to hold them hostage, or do something drastic like delete everything. You never know!

Pokes is a wild category. I only have one listed on there from 2015, which is totally false. I engaged in as many poke wars as everyone else back in the day, so who knows where all that important data is hidden.

The Security section includes Account Status Changes (apparently I deactivated my account a bunch of times in 2011. Must’ve been a tough time), and Active Sessions. This shows a log of every IP address, browser, cookie info, and estimated location every time you’ve logged in to Facebook, as well as recognised machines, including your phone. This means FB can track your location, even if you don’t ‘check in’ anywhere. 

Lastly, there’s a log of your Timeline, right from the beginning. Scrolling to the bottom and seeing all the “U GOT FB!!!!!!!!!!!!!! :D yay! how r u? xxx <3” and “1st friend! :DDD” comments is probably the closest we’ll ever get to time travel in our lifetimes!

If this has inspired you to want to download your own data, this link will show you how to do so. In this age of misinformation and fearmongering, social media is both one of the biggest tools and potential threats to society as we know it. The best thing we can do is investigate for ourselves and arm ourselves with knowledge about the power companies like Facebook have, in order to make the most informed decisions we can.  

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