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How to Review Your Amassing Facebook Data

12th September, 2018 | Cyberprivacy | Entropic

Photo by Christopher Alvarenga on Unsplash

In our previous article we reviewed the current options available for boosting your Facebook sign-in security.

In this article, we'll show you how to download and interpret the data that Facebook accumulates about you, with a focus on identifying the more important elements of your personal information.

The use of a centralized storage approach - holistic elements of your personal information that are stored and replicated across the globe, continues to be the single most significant vulnerability of Facebook.

This approach to information storage makes Facebook data centers very high value targets which are subject to a constant barrage of attempted infiltrations from nation states, cybercriminals, or seemingly legitimate entities, such as Cambridge Analytica that find ways to circumvent legal and technical loopholes, to glean and leverage your personal information.

If you have opted not to #DeleteFacebook, then at the very least you should regularly review the information that is accumulating about you in Facebook data centers across the globe. You can do this using the Download Your Information feature that Facebook provides in Settings.

This is important for several reasons, including:

  1. Over time, it helps you to better understand what pieces of information about you are accumulating in Facebook's data centers.

  2. Helping you to identify, remove, and even prevent the collection of specific items of information that you don't need or want to be collected, analyzed and shared.

  3. Helping you to understand what third party apps and web sites might be accessing your personal information.

  4. Helping you to verify whether specific information is still being collected about you, after you have instructed Facebook to stop collecting it. This is especially applicable in cases when Facebook might change the layout of their user interface, relocating options that you were previously familiar with.

In the event of a data breach or unintended data loss, the less information that you have left accumulated in Facebook, the better off you will be.

Facebook Information Categories

Please note that the classifications discussed below are generalized and are based on a review of data accumulated on several different Facebook accounts that have existed for a period of 3-5 years. We consider how sensitive this accumulated data might be in the event of a data breach or unintended data loss, where the lost information could be correlated against other information sources, such as stolen DNA data. Each of us has our individual perception of privacy, which varies based on factors such our culture, upbringing, experiences, lifestyle, and personal beliefs.

The sign-in security options provided by Facebook


Accessing and Reviewing Your Facebook Information

Now we'll go into details about how to download and review your Facebook information.

Important - Before We Start
  1. The file you are about to download will likely contain way more information than you expected.

  2. We're about to download an unencrypted zip file containing all of your personal information from Facebook to be stored on your notebook or PC. Due to this, please take the following security precautions:

    1. Secure Your Network - Make sure you are connected to a trusted network. Preferably a non-public WiFi network, such as your secured home network.

    2. Secure Your Notebook/PC - Make sure that your notebook/PC is virus/malware free. Run a full virus scan and clean beforehand, or preferably rebuild your system entirely if you suspect that any malicious software is running.

    If you cannot be sure of the above, please do not proceed!

  3. When you are done with reviewing your Facebook information, it's really important to clean up this information, so it is not left lying around for someone, or something else to pick up. This includes deleting the downloaded zip file, the folder you extracted it to, and finally emptying the trash to prevent it from being recovered.

  4. Though Instagram and WhatsApp are also part of Facebook, the process to view and manage the information amassed by these services is entirely different and is not covered by the Facebook "Download Your Information" feature. Viewing and deleting your accumulated information on these services can be done using their respective web sites/apps.

How to Download Your Facebook Information

After Requesting Your Facebook Information Download

  1. Firstly, you'll need a desktop PC or Notebook. This can also be done on a mobile device if you want using slightly different steps. The examples below are based on using a Mac.

  2. Go to Facebook, and sign in.

  3. Select "Settings", then select "Your Facebook Information" from the options on the right.

  4. Select "Download Your Information", then under "New File", select "All of My Data".

  5. Select "HTML" format, and select the "Create File" button.

  6. After a few minutes you will receive a notification that Facebook has prepared your information, and that it's ready to download.

  7. Once you receive the notification, select the "Download" button to download your Facebook information to your notebook/PC.

How to View Your Facebook Information

Folders in a Facebook User Information Download


  1. Once the download has completed, open or extract the downloaded zip file, which will be named something like "facebook-yourname1234.zip".

  2. You will see a folder containing a subfolder for the different types of information being accumulated by Facebook. You can open the main index (index.html) in the root folder to view the available categories of data, or just load the html file from each folder directly. We'll do the latter.

  3. Much of the information listed here is self explanatory, or you will be able to recognize it from regularly using Facebook. Lets review some sections prioritized by importance. Please note that this list is not exhaustive.



How to Interpret Your Facebook Information

Information with High Sensitivity
MESSAGES

PROFILE INFORMATION

ABOUT YOU

POSTS

COMMENTS

LIKES AND REACTIONS

CALLS AND MESSAGES

PHOTOS AND VIDEOS

YOUR SEARCH HISTORY

LOCATION HISTORY

YOUR PLACES

SECURITY AND LOGIN INFORMATION


Information with Moderate Sensitivity
FRIENDS

GROUPS

FOLLOWING AND FOLLOWERS

APPS AND WEBSITES

PAGES

EVENTS

SAVED ITEMS

ADS

Information with Low Sensitivity
MARKETPLACE

SECURITY AND LOGIN INFORMATION

OTHER ACTIVITY

PAYMENT HISTORY

Removing Specific Items of Information

After reviewing your downloaded information, you might ask "How do I prevent collection of all or part of this information?". Under the Your Facebook Information in "Settings", select the "Manage Your Information" option.

This section is less user friendly, leading you down the path of seemingly arbitrary help links that may, or may not actually help you to prevent collection, or delete specific items of information. In short, you'll need patience to navigate this area - Facebook has not made this as user friendly as it could be. This also means it's worthy of future discussion in detail, in terms of how to get things done.

Removing Your Entire Account

The option to Delete Your Account and Information is a lot more user friendly than the "Manage Your Information" option, and allows you to permanently delete your personal information from Facebook data centers, and close your account.

Unfortunately, permanently doesn't imply immediate. You'll have to wait 14 days for this to happen, and will have to somehow resist the urge to re-activate your account during this time :) Following this period, Facebook requires an additional 76 days (90 days in total) to permanently delete all of your personal information from their data centers.

Conclusion

As a final reminder, once you have finished reviewing your Facebook information, don't forget to delete the Facebook zip data file that you downloaded and empty your trash, as previously discussed.

In a future article, we'll discuss new technologies related to deterring the distribution of personal information, including photographs and images. Blockchain technologies are already being developed that will help identify the original authors or owners of specific works of digital art, as discussed in this article by Bennett Garner, originally posted on CoinCentral.com.

If you have any feedback, questions, or suggestions, please let us know.

Acknowledgements:
Photo by Christopher Alvarenga on Unsplash