It’s no secret – Facebook knows a lot about you. But what is ‘a lot’? And more importantly, what does Facebook know about you exactly? If you want to know what kind of information the tech giant collects about you, we will show you how. The results might be a little scary, but by knowing what kind of personal data Facebook collects, you can then decide wether to leave it as it is, to limit or to delete it.
Recently, Facebook found itself in a mess over revelation that information on millions of users was taken and used by Cambridge Analytica. The company took data from reported 50 million Facebook users to build profiles in order to serve people with personalized ads that were aimed at their “inner demons”.
After a while, Facebook banned Cambridge Analytica from the platform and announced its plans to scrutinize the company to confirm whether the alleged accusation was true. Currently, several investigations have been launched over this Facebook data scandal in both the US and the UK. Facebook knows a scary amount of stuff about you. The whole idea is hinged on tracing your footsteps on Facebook, alongside what you do on the internet through the social media and third party websites.
How to download your Facebook data?
To get your own data dump on desktop, go to ‘Download your information’ page:
- go to the Facebook app
- on the bottom right click on the so called ‘Hamburger button’
- scroll down to ‘Settings & Privacy’ and click to expand
- click on ‘Settings’
- again scroll down to ‘Download your information’
Both on desktop and mobile, download all of the data at once, or select only the types of information and date ranges you want, then click ‘Create file’. Facebook requires a little time to compile all that information and should be ready in roughly 15-25 minutes – depending on how much information you shared over the years. You’ll get a notification redirecting you to a page where you will download the data after you re-enter your account password.
To be fair, it is much easier to download your Facebook data on desktop as the file can weight up to 3 GB (that’s what you get when you run around asking “what does facebook know about me”). Your information will be downloaded into your computer as a ZIP. You’ll need to extract it, open the new folder and click on the “index.html” to view everything Facebook knows about you. Well, a lot of it is unsurprising. You’ll find the “About Me” data you actually put in when making the account. Information such as work, education, hometown, gender, and birthday is not left out either.
When it comes to the ‘Security and Login Information’, the category warns that Facebook has been tracking the date, time, IP address, browser, and device from every time you’ve logged on and, of course, logged off. This data then can be used in numerous ways, one of more “innocent” would be tracking how much time do people spend on the platform.
Examine these categories carefully – they contain a ton of information. Interestingly, the “Friends” section, has not only every friend you’ve ever accepted, but also everyone you’ve ever declined and deleted. You think it’s crazy? Read on. Category “Your address book” contains all your friends’ phone numbers! “Messages” folder, of course, has all your personal chats – even those old conversations you purposely deleted three years ago!
Although Facebook assures that it does not directly sell your data, they allow advertisers to target ads based on conclusions Facebook had drawn from your activity on the platform. Hence, a marketer looking to reach a liberal voter simply tells Facebook that his or her target audience are people who like MSNBC host Rachel Maddow, or Sen.
You can actually see what labels Facebook puts on you for advertisers. Go to ‘Your information’ and then to ‘Your categories’, you will see categories Facebook added you to based on information you’ve “provided on Facebook and other activity”. In the screenshot below, you can see that I’ve been added to ‘Recent mobile network or device change’ and ‘Potential mobile network or device change’ categories, which, to my surprise, is very accurate as recently I’ve indeed changed my Iphone (although, I don’t recall “providing this info to Facebook”).
One reason Facebook Cambridge Analytica scandal is such a big scandal is that the company collected insights from Facebook users and gave them to Ted Cruz’s and Donald Trump’s campaigners. According to Trump team’s digital media director, Brad Percale, the Cambridge Analytica helped them to have an online media persuasion tool that showed them who were the most persuadable Facebook users and what those users cared about.
Oh, and Facebook doesn’t just know your explicitly volunteered information – it finds out other facts a bit more sneakily. Facebook created a tool called Facebook Pixel; a code that some companies put on their websites to tell Facebook what you do there when you visit. This makes Facebook draw conclusions about your personality and behaviour even when you’re not on their platform.
How to delete your Facebook data
Considering the amount of information that is being collected and stored, you might want to delete anything Facebook knows about you. The thing is Zuckerberg and Co didn’t make it easy. For some mysterious reason you can’t erase posts, tags, photos and other information in bulk on Facebook. Meaning, you can just do it piece by piece!
How to delete Facebook posts
To manually delete posts on both desktop and Facebook app, go to ‘Activity Log’ to reveal your posting history. Find posts you want to delete, tap the pencil on desktop and an arrow on app to delete them.
Manually deleting 20K posts is pretty damn tiring, so we got a little bit creative and found few Chrome extensions that came to the rescue! Social Book Post Manager makes it much easier to bulk delete or unlike your Facebook posts by automating the process. Run it by year & month, or just “select all” to delete it all. You might need to run the extension over and over a few times to make sure it deletes every post.
How to delete Facebook photos
If most of the photos you uploaded to Facebook are organized into albums – good news for you! Deleting photo albums is way easier as you can erase an entire album (with the photos in it) with just a few clicks, whereas standalone photos have to be removed, yes, one at a time — and it sucks.
To delete a Facebook photo album:
- go to your Photos page and click on ‘Albums’;
- go to the album you want to delete;
- click the gear on the top right and select ‘Delete Album’;
- click to confirm.
To delete individual Facebook photos:
- go to your Photos page and click on ‘Your Photos’;
- click the photo to open it;
- click ‘Options’ on the menu bar below the photo;
- select ‘Delete This Photo’ and click delete.
To untag yourself from Facebook photos:
After a few hours of deleting your own photos, you may realize – you are not done yet. There still are photos that someone else has posted and tagged you. Here that you will be able to choose not one, but 10 photos at a time. Thank you, Zuckerberg.
- go to your ‘Activity log’, then click ‘Photos and Videos’ on the left side bar;
- then choose ‘Photos You’re Tagged In’;
- click to check the box to the left of the posts you’d like to remove a tag from;
- click ‘Report/Remove Tags’ at the top of the page;
- click ‘Untag Photos to confirm’
Remember: removing tags from photos, does not delete them, so technically you are still in the photo that is uploaded to Facebook. If you want to remove these photos from Facebook, the only way is to ask the owners to take them down.
So yes, everything Facebook knows about you can be adjusted. Of course, the best way of getting everything removed is by deleting your Facebook account, in general. But be warned, deleting your Facebook account will come with consequences you did not expect as you might be using Facebook account to login to other apps, for example, Tinder and Airbnb.
So only deleting your Facebook data will keep your original Facebook account mostly intact in case you want to use it for other purposes and give you a strange comfort knowing the fact that Facebook does not know everything about you.