I know a lot of people in the security industry and I know a lot of people who like Facebook. However, there is no great overlap between these groups. As a person in both groups I am a curiosity. Many security experts have either always kept away from the social network or are currently in favor of the deletion. I follow security topics and products like antivirus utilities closely and also use Facebook, but carefully. I do not see any need to delete my Facebook account. Now that Facebook has made it so easy to download everything the social network has about me, I've continued with this process. While reading the archive, I came across some positive and other surprises.
I'm careful, really I am
I've known for years that I'm not the customer on Facebook, but the customer is the product. I keep my profile secret except for friends. I do not post much in my visible profile and not everything I show is true. For example, while studying college existentialism, I am not a pastafarian. I have not been "touched by his noodle appendage". I never click wildly on darn links. And I maintain a security suite that warns when a dangerous connection gets past my radar.
I never play Facebook games. You would be surprised or appalled by how many data games can be collected. I had to silence a family member because a Farmville account kept calling me to play. I've been known to try some silly quiz games, but only those who ask to find out which Game of Thrones character will kill you. Even then, the questions are better not the ones that could answer your security questions. This quiz where you scan your Facebook data and get a result? That's poison! I do not touch her.
I never use Facebook (or my email account) to sign up for websites. When you do this, your Facebook password becomes a single source of error. An exposure and all your accounts are wide open. Instead, I use a password manager to create strong, unique passwords for each site.
But being careful is not enough. Sloppy security features of my friends may be able to make some of my information public. So I've tightened my mindset to prevent Facebook from passing on my data. I gave everything and opted to completely disable the sharing platform. Facebook warned that my apps would be disabled and that I could not log in with my Facebook credentials. I smiled and went on. I'm fine now, right? Well, maybe.
Download your archive
Today it is easy to download an archive with all the data Facebook has on you. (At least they say it's all …) Well, is pretty pretty simple. You'll need to go through several steps to prevent someone else from stealing your archive. Here's how I did it and how to get your own archive:
- Sign in to Facebook, click the triangle icon in the top right corner and select Settings
- On the General Settings page, click the last item, the link to download a copy of your data.
- Facebook warns that data collection may take a while. Click on "Start my archive".
- Click "Start My Archive" again on the next page and wait for the notification to appear.
- Download your Facebook archive.
Note that you will need to provide your Facebook password twice during this process as this is sensitive information. Facebook also warns that you should protect the downloaded data as it contains sensitive material. It's best to encrypt the data if you're not studying it.
No surprises to get started
After unpacking the downloaded archive, find a folder with the file INDEX.HTM in front plus folder named
You start with the profile page with general information about you and your Facebook account. This includes the exact time you started using Facebook (Thursday, June 28
My archive also lists all the people I've identified as family members, all three dozen of them. Family relationships are a big part of what keeps me on Facebook. The lists of music, books, movies, restaurants and websites that I like are short; I do not tend to like to give in these areas. But the list of others may be more interesting. Apparently I've liked more than 60 pages, from Notorious RBG to
This page also lists all the groups I belong to. It's a bigger list than I expected, mainly because at least half of them had had no activity for years. I am not sure if it will be useful to break away from moribund groups.
Friends and non-friends
When you click on the Friends link, I received a list of all my Facebook friends, sorted by latest and oldest. No surprise there! But when I scrolled down, I found much more. It also includes a list: Sent friend requests, friend requests received, rejected friend requests, and friends removed. Right. Facebook knows everyone you're not friends with and
I dropped the list in Excel for analysis because I do that. I found out that several dozen entries occur in more than one category
Perhaps the most interesting category
At the end of the list I found some other smaller categories. I have exactly one Followee, that is, there is a semi-public character that I follow without actually being FB friends. You can have more. Facebook's analysis of my friend collection takes me to the Friend Peer Group called Established Adult Life. Why? Maybe for advertising?
Who are these contacts?
The Friends page makes sense, though it contains more information than I thought. But the contact information page totally amazed me. It lists hundreds of people in an obvious order along with one, two or three phone numbers. Who are these people and where do they come from? The list even contains entries for no longer living persons, some
I filed this list in Excel as
For a mental health review I have used an Excel formula to label each name from my friends list which also appears in the contact list. That's 11 percent of my friends. In the other direction, as there are more contacts than friends, only 6.5 percent of my contacts agree with the friends list.
I'm not sure how Facebook received this contact list and their phone numbers. I must have given him permission to see my contacts on a platform, but even then I usually keep e-mail addresses (especially without this list), no phone numbers. It is a mystery!
My Timeline at a Glance
At first, I was not happy with the page reached by clicking Timeline. Like many, I often post a picture with a tricky commentary. In Timeline view, the images are skipped and the Snarky comments alone do not make sense. Then I press Ctrl + End to get to the bottom of the page. Wow!
Every post I've ever posted on Facebook is here in the timeline. I do not know if it's even possible to go that far back in the Facebook interface. If possible, it would take hours, maybe days, to scroll down, down, down. The almost ten years old contributions were fascinating. The post "Feeling like I drove 10 miles in the rain Sunday to see the Amgen drivers start the first 100-mile ride," reminded me of the thrill of seeing the grand opening of the first Amgen Tour of California cycle race. I was proud to remember the success of my adult daughter's high school, the Grand Prize, in a regional animation competition.
Even in this practical page with a long page, scrolling through the timeline would be too much. However, if you want to check when a particular event that you've posted on Facebook has occurred, you can easily search the page for details. In fact, this is an index for your entire Facebook story. What an unexpected treasure that is.
Any photo, cumbersome
When you click Photos, you'll get a similar list, a timeline for every photo or album you've ever posted. It contains the date for albums and all comments, not the text you shared with the album. If you click each photo, the dates will not be displayed unless the photo itself contains comments. Facebook reports a series of (for me) meaningless information. Camera brand and model. Alignment, width and height. Aperture, ISO and focal length. In my oldest photos, these are all the more useless because they are often empty or zero. I could not figure out why some iPhone photos contain only minor information, while others receive nothing.
Some photos are automatically displayed in predefined folders such as Mobile Photos, Timeline Photos, and Profile Pictures. As with the photos in your hand-crafted folders, the non-useful camera data is displayed here, followed by the comments. Any post associated with the photo will not be displayed, nor will there be an indication of a date, except in the comments.
For some photos Facebook offers a link entitled Facial Recognition Data. Clicking on the link displays a number of incomprehensible numbers and raw data. The fact that these were all photos of Halloween pumpkins does not inspire confidence.
In my opinion, Facebook could handle this much better. Suppress the camera data, unless prompted. Enter the date for a photo. And when I close a photo and post it, add the text of the post to the photo.
Small Screen Video
When you click Videos, a list of all the videos you've posted is displayed the oldest, as expected, with a 284 by 160 pixel thumbnail. You will also receive the date and time of the video as well as comments. However, when I clicked on a video, I was surprised:
The Facebook archive stores videos with 400 x 224 MP4 files. It is not linked to the full size video you posted. When I launched one of them, I found that the sound worked well, but the video itself showed only changing color bands. I tried half a dozen videos, and the same happened to everyone.
That was under Firefox. When I opened the same page in Chrome or Edge, the video played correctly. Internet Explorer did not try the internal playback
 What if you are really looking for the original video you uploaded? You can not get there directly from the archive, but it can be of help. Check the date below the video you want and open the list of videos directly in your Facebook account online. Make a guess how far you should scroll down. Click on a video and check the date in the displayed post. Scroll up or down to include the desired date. It is not ideal, but not too difficult.
Ads and more ads
Facebook exists to seduce you and other advertisers. Each time you click on an ad, this is another data point for your profile. When you click on the Ads link, you'll see a list of topics that Facebook considers to be of interest to you. In my case, the list includes more than five dozen elements. Some make sense: coffee, California, computer security, network security, journalism, Alejandro Jodorowsky. Others have scratched my head, things like water, landform, watermelon and Order of Interbeing (what?). However, these are the topics that describe exactly which ads cause Facebook in my feed.
More interesting is the following section, Ad History. This is simply a list of ads and sponsored posts you recently clicked on. I'm not sure about the time; The oldest in my feed is about seven weeks ago. It could also be a fixed number of the latest ad clicks. In my
At the very end, the archive lists "advertisers with your contact information," eight of them in my case. I recognize most of them, although I'm not sure how they got my contact information or what it means they did. But a couple is completely unknown. I deliberately do not google because I believe The Watchers would receive more information.
A Mess of Messages
It's not surprising that Facebook logs every conversation you make with Facebook Messenger. All these conversations are displayed when you click Messages. And the resulting page is almost completely useless.
There is a list of nearly 200 names and names in my archive, in no apparent order. To view a conversation, click the name. Not a few have no discussions with them at all. Others are chat-chat attempts by people I do not know. There is no way to tell if a particular name or group leads to an actual conversation.
If you're looking for names that I know have a messenger history, I've found that every exchange is listed at first glance. The messages are displayed in reverse chronological order. To read a single conversation, you must scan the date / time stamps to find the introductory message, and then read from the bottom up. What a mess! And if you remember that you had a conversation on a specific topic, but forget who you talked to, forget it. There is no way to search, unless you open each name and search.
Facebook, that could be so much better! Give us a list of names, yes, but indicate the number of messages assigned to each. Let's sort by name or by
Events and Pokes
I'm sure you've been invited to numerous events on Facebook. When invited to a truly personal event, I attach importance to actively choosing
Equally useless and harmless is the list of shocks. Who is triggering someone these days?
I thought that clicking "Security" would show my Facebook security settings, perhaps with a history of changes. Boy, I was wrong!
This page starts with a confusing list of active sessions. 17 active sessions were listed, one (correctly) marked as Facebook for iPad and 16 as unknown. Who knows what to think about it?
The following list of account activity proved even more confusing. A seemingly endless list of entries reports in painful details about events like updated session (this is the vast majority for me), web session ended, and login. The slightly interesting entry accurately reported the date and time of the last password change. These entries only go back about two years.
Below is a list of approved machines including entries for two iPads and two iPhones. Which? I have had several. The date / time stamps were no help; all four say they were founded on December 31
I have found little use in the past year for a list of subscriptions and cancellations. A list of login credentials shows the cookies and IP addresses used or updated in the last year. The list ends with estimated locations based on IP addresses, only the length of the decimal width
At the very end is a short section that could be useful. The "Administrative Records" section includes changes to your password, changes to your security responses, and something called "Checkpoint Completed."
OK, it's true that Facebook stores very detailed information about your signups and devices. You can look at it until your eyes cross. A security expert could use this data to detect potential hacking, but the average consumer will find little interest.
What I Did not Know Was Facebook Known
Before my last experiment, I had not really thought about what All the data Facebook stores about me. Of course, it has to keep my posts and pictures, and I know that it uses some techniques to decide which ads to show. Downloading and browsing through my Facebook archive was a true eye-opener. I came across real surprises, some positive, others negative, others just … surprising.
- The timeline archive can be a fantastic index for your entire Facebook story. It's almost impossible to scroll back a few years in your live Facebook feed, but in the archive you can easily search the entire timeline.
- Facebook does not only know my friends. It knows everyone who has been asked to be a friend, even if I have ignored the request. It knows everyone I have not made friends with, and any friend request I have declined. Maybe that's not so bad, but I was surprised.
- The list of videos in the archive is displayed from the newest to the oldest with a date / time stamp for each video. However, you can not see the actual post, the video is displayed in a small rectangle and does not seem to work in Firefox.
- Some elements in the Facebook list "My" ad topics make sense. others seem to be off the wall. The revelation that I clicked on 100 ads in less than two months is an eye-opener.
- Something I did some time ago gave Facebook permission to retrieve all sorts of unrelated contact information. Strangely enough, only phone numbers are shown here, though I have never called 90 percent of these people and a number of them are dead. Uncertainty.
- Your archive lists all the people you've ever chatted with Messenger, which turns out to be convenient. However, the information is unstructured and difficult to track, and you can not search your messages.
If you have not already done so, scroll to the top of this article and follow the instructions to download your own archive. Scroll through, think about it, do your best to get past the poorly designed parts. The archive is not just proof of what Facebook has on you. You can also make it a useful resource, provided you are not inspired to simply delete Facebook.
If you believe that you keep Facebook, we strongly advise you to bite the ball and disable the platform through which Facebook can share your information. Yes, that means giving up your games and apps, those nasty little spies. You must log in to websites with unique passwords. But those are good things! With these precautions, you can continue to use Facebook while still retaining (largely) your privacy.