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How to download your Facebook data (and interpret it)

Worried about what Facebook has on you? Here's how to download your data, and interpret the data that Facebook has compiled

The number of privacy scandals and questions about Facebook and its rapacious desire for your data, never seems to slow.

So it’s a good time to get control of your Facebook account, whether that’s changing Facebook’s privacy settings so you are in more control, or deactivating it entirely.

But before you go ahead and delete your account, it’s well worth making a full download of your entire account.

If you’re anything like us, you’ve probably spent the last decade uploading your entire digital life to the platform, and it would be a shame to lose that many photos, videos and, let’s face it, excruciatingly embarrassing statuses.

How to download your Facebook data

Downloading your Facebook data is actually surprisingly easy.

  • Log into your account and click the downwards-facing arrow on the top right of the page. From the drop-down menu that appears, select Settings.
  • From here you should click the ‘Download a copy of your Facebook data’ hyperlink. It’s a little hard to see because it’s there as a plain hyperlink, but it’s located just below the ‘Manage account’ menu option.
  • Unfortunately, with so much data to download it’s not an instantaneous process. You’ll receive an email to tell you that your profile is in the process of being prepared, and then around an hour later you’ll receive a second saying that your download is ready.
  • Click the link that’s emailed to you, and you’ll be able to download a nice .zip file of all your data.

Now the fun starts. Here’s what I learned from looking at my profile.

The button to download your Facebook data is easy to miss

…And what I discovered when I did…

1. I realised I was an idiot

The single most embarrassing thing I discovered in all of my Facebook data was the first status I ever posted on the service when I made my account back in 2008, and frankly I’ve never hated myself more.

I was, shall we say, a verbose teenager.

My first ever Facebook status, posted on Tuesday the 19th of August 2008 at 15:16 was, “Why a wall, really? I mean paper is much more convenient, it’s small, it’s portable and if no one writes anything on it I can learn how to turn it into an ‘ickle swan. Also if someone writes you a mean message on a piece of paper you can burn it, try burning a wall and all hell breaks loose. Can you tell I’m new at facebook?”

2. I have literally only ‘Poked’ someone once

I’ve never really understood Facebook Pokes. Are they a means of getting someone’s attention, or is it a way of flirting with a school crush without committing to saying something embarrassing?

I did so at 10 minutes to midnight on the 13th of January 2016, and my second year university roommate was the recipient.

No, I don’t know why it happened either.

3. The only advertiser that cares about me is PlayStation

One of the creepier pieces of information you can download from Facebook is a list of all the companies that have paid to have your contact information.

If you’d told me that before I’d looked at the list myself I would have guessed that a bunch of super hip startups had requested my contact details, or maybe a political party or two.

Nope, just 13 European divisions of Sony PlayStation. Thanks guys.

4. Facebook has absolutely all of my phone contacts

A genuinely astonishing realisation was that Facebook has access to literally all of my phone contacts.

I have a vague recollection about giving the app permission to access this information, but there’s something a lot more striking about seeing my boss’ phone number just sitting there in between a couple of PR contacts — none of whom I’ve even come close to adding on Facebook.

It’s a stark reminder that if you give an app permission to access some of the data on your phone, then you can be damn sure that app is going to take full advantage of it.

5. I’ve been ‘Facebook official’ with four people, but I only dated two of them

There’s a lot in my Facebook data that I don’t quite understand because I can’t remember its context. My past relationships are one of them.

There are four people listed under ‘Relationships’ in my Facebook data. Two of them are girlfriends I dated when I was in sixth form, but two of them are just childhood friends.

There are two possible reasons for this: either I was so close with these two school friends that it tricked Facebook into thinking we were in a relationship, or I told Facebook they were my boyfriends as part of some stupid joke.

Given that Facebook has failed to identify any of my post-school relationships, I’d wager it’s the latter.

Facebook dislike button

6. I’ve used way too many dating apps

Also listed in your Facebook data are all the apps that currently have access to your Facebook data. It’s an especially important list when you consider that Cambridge Analytica allegedly acquired its Facebook data through such an app.

For the most part, my list of apps is fairly unremarkable. Spotify has access to my data, along with JustGiving and my bank, Monzo.

But more embarrassing are the sheer amount of dating apps that I’ve signed into over the years which include (deep breath); Once, The Inner Circle, OkCupid, Tinder, Bumble and Coffee Meets Bagel.

Were it not for my first Facebook status this would be the most embarrassing data point here.

7. I have a poor memory for old Facebook friends

Aside from your Facebook pictures, nothing makes you feel older than looking at all the Facebook friends you’ve forgotten about over the years.

Although the amount of Facebook friends I have currently stands at 652 people, I’ve unfriended an additional 48 over the past decade. I’ve declined 52 friend requests from people I don’t know and my dad, and — most depressingly of all — I’ve sent out seven friend requests that never got a response.

But, delightfully, downloading my data showed me that the second ever friend I made on the service is someone I’m still in contact with. He lives across the road from me, and we still find the time to play PUBG a few times a week together.

The first friend I ever made, naturally, was a girl who I had a crush on at the time.


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