Facebook knows quite a lot about you. But what does it know exactly? The results might scare some, but by learning what kind of private information Facebook accumulates, you can then make a proper decision to leave it, limit it, or delete it – which we’ve previously mentioned.
Not long ago, Zuckerberg found himself on a hot seat after the Cambridge Analytica scandal broke out. It was revealed that 50 million Facebook users had their data taken and used to build profiles for personalized ads that were aimed at our “inner demons.”
In the aftermath, Zuckerberg banned Cambridge Analytica from accessing Facebook and announced his plans to scrutinize the company to confirm whether the alleged accusation was true. Several investigations have been launched over this Facebook data scandal in both the US and the UK. Finally, in July 2019, the Federal Trade Commission settled the US investigation by fining Facebook $5 billion.
Zuckerberg answered by establishing a new industry-academic partnership named Social Science One. Why? Because Facebook knows a scary amount of stuff about you, which is invaluable.
The whole idea is hinged on tracing your footsteps on Facebook, alongside what you do on the internet through social media and third-party websites. When all this data is collected and analyzed, it becomes a tool of significant power that can alter even the elections, such as the 2020 US Presidential.
How to retrieve your Facebook data?
To retrieve your data from Facebook, go to ‘Download Your Information’ page:
To do so on your mobile device:
- 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 ‘Settings’
- Scroll down to ‘Download Your Information’
You can download all your information at once or select only some parts or particular date ranges. When you’re ready, click ‘Create file.’ It takes some time to compile all that data, but it should be ready in less than half an hour, 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.
It’s more convenient to download your Facebook data on desktop as the .zip file size can reach a few GBs. You’ll need to extract it and click on the “index.html” to view everything Facebook knows about you. There you’ll find the “About Me” data you actually put in when creating 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. One of the more “innocent” ways to use such data would be learning how much time people spend on the platform.
It only gets more interesting from here. The “Friends” section stores not only every friend you’ve ever accepted but also everyone you’ve ever declined and deleted, including your exes. Think that’s crazy? There’s more. Category “Your address book” contains all your friends’ phone numbers! “Messages” folder, of course, has all your personal chats – even those old heart-breaking conversations you purposely deleted three years ago to protect your future self!
Even though Facebook claims that it doesn’t directly sell your data, but merely allows advertisers to target ads based on conclusions that Facebook had drawn from the information about you. What it means is that a political campaign manager who wants to reach a liberal voter by Facebook ads simply describes the target audience as 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 the information you’ve “provided on Facebook and other activity.”
The screenshot below shows 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, but I don’t recall providing Facebook with this info.
The reason why the Cambridge Analytica scandal is even more massive than the jungle is that the company collected insights from Facebook users and gave them to Ted Cruz’s and Donald Trump’s campaigners. According to the Trump team’s digital media director, Brad Percale, Cambridge Analytica helped to create an online media persuasion tool by showing which Facebook users were the most easily persuaded and what those users cared about.
While it wouldn’t be so bad if Facebook knew only the info which you voluntarily shared, this company strives to find out as much as it can. That’s why 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 allows Facebook to gain insights on your personality and behavior 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 everything that Facebook knows about you. But that’s easier said than done. For some reason, you can’t erase posts, tags, photos, and other information in bulk. This means that if you’re really into covering your tracks, you’ll have to do it piece by piece!
Deleting Facebook posts
To manually delete posts, go to ‘Activity Log’ to see your posting history. Find posts you want to delete, then click the pencil on desktop or tap an arrow on mobile to delete them.
Manually deleting 20,000 posts is pretty damn tiring, so we found a Chrome extension 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 and month, or simply “select all” to delete everything. You might have to run the extension over and over a few times to make sure it deletes every post.
Deleting Facebook photos
If your photos on Facebook are organized into albums – consider yourself lucky! Deleting photo albums is much easier because you can erase an entire album with just a few clicks, whereas standalone photos have to be removed like the sea urchin spikes from your foot – one at a time.
To delete a Facebook photo album:
- On your Photos page and click on ‘Albums’
- Go to the album you want to delete
- Click the gear icon on the top right and select ‘Delete Album’
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
- Rinse and repeat
To untag yourself from Facebook photos:
After a few hours of deleting your own photos, you may realize that you’re far from done because there still are photos that someone else has posted and tagged you. Luckily, you will be able to choose not one, but ten (!) photos at a time. Thank you, Zuckerberg!
- Go to your ‘Activity log’
- Click ‘Photos and Videos’ on the left sidebar
- Choose ‘Photos You’re Tagged In’
- 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 that removing tags from photos does not delete them, so technically, you are still in the photo that’s on Facebook. If you want to remove these photos completely, the only way is to ask the owner 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 or Facebook smartphone app (which is, unfortunately, impossible if you’re a Samsung Galaxy owner) 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 that Facebook doesn’t know everything about you.