The last few weeks has seen Facebook launched into potentially their biggest crisis since Mark Zuckerberg launched the social networking site whilst still studying at Harvard in February 2004. The Cambridge Analytica data scandal has been well documented and is still currently unfolding. As it unfolds it has the potential to cause greater long-term damage to the company than anything it has ever faced before, including a number of early lawsuits from initial business partners and rivals, which later became the central plot of the David Fincher film, The Social Network.
In short, Cambridge Analytica harvested data from 50 million Facebook profiles without permission and then used that information to build psychological profiles of voters and target them with personalised political campaigns, to sway their vote and swing elections around the world. All of this has since led to the #DeleteFacebook campaign, seen the stock price tumble dramatically and led to Zuckerberg to embark on a media damage limitation tour.
All of this has put Facebook’s use of our data front and centre of the news cycle with an increased public focus on where this data exists and how they access it. I’ve written this blog to help answer these questions and give a quick overview.
Accessing your Facebook data:
Downloading your data is a relatively simple step. First, start on the homepage and click on the drop-down button in the top right-hand corner of the page, before clicking on the ‘settings tab’ from the drop-down bar.
This will open the general settings tab which allows you to change a whole host of settings and information about your account including your privacy, security and contact settings. On the front page below your account information, you will see the sentence ‘Download a copy of your Facebook data’. Click on this.
This page will give you the option to download the archive from your account. Facebook will then process this request and get back to you when it’s ready. This depends on purely how much data you have on your account, so if you use Facebook a lot or have had your account since it hit the mainstream a decade ago, it will take longer. You will then be sent the option to download a Zip file with your information.
After a couple of years break, I rejoined Facebook about two years ago and use it semi-regularly. My request took about fifteen minutes to be completed and the Zip file was 123MB in size.
What does the data say and what does it mean?
Once you have the zip folder you’ll be able to access all of the data stored in your account which will be presented in four files; ‘html’, ‘messages’, ‘photos’ and ‘videos’. The final three are relatively straightforward and you’ll be able to see all the messages you’ve ever sent or received, and the photos and videos you have posted.
Opening the HTML folder will allow you a greater look into the information stored on your account. For examples, the ‘ads’ file will allow you to see all of the keywords and groupings that the Facebook algorithm has assigned to your account which allow advertisers to hit you with ads. This is essentially a list of made up of things that Facebook believes makes up your personality and interests and is the data purchased by advertisers to when they are running adverts. This is made up of pages you like, interests etc. and although most of it is accurate, it’s not an exact science. Examples from my own list which miss the mark include ‘Baseball’ and ‘Contemporary R&B’ which are things I actively avoid and ‘Fitness and wellness’ which is definitely not a strong point either.
Looking further through this folder will allow you to see that Facebook keeps the data of the apps stored on your phone or device, the phone numbers and contact details from your phone, details of every time you have logged in and the locations, and the details surrounding your Facebook relationships including those who accepted, declined or deleted your friend requests.
What does this mean?
In response to the scandal, and in accordance with the upcoming GDPR deadline, last week Facebook announced a set of tools designed to ‘put people in more control over their privacy’.
This will allow users to access all of their data from one place, modify their security settings and delete their data from the site completely. This ‘access your information’ tool will run parallel with the new ‘privacy shortcuts’ menu which will offer a number of options around data protection, privacy and ad personalisation.
Despite being accelerated by the Cambridge Analytica story, most of these changes had been previously discussed and planned, however, Facebook has announced that they will not be extending GDPR privacy protections beyond the jurisdiction of the EU.
Anyway, I hope that helps you access your data and if you do have any questions please do get in touch.