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We recently reported on how Facebook tracks its users as they surf the web even when they’re not on Facebook, by using cookies and those “Like” buttons that you see everywhere. (And then we told you how to stop that from happening.)But Facebook also stores a lot of information about you, some of which it shares with advertisers by allowing them to target you based on hashtags attached to your account.
Go straight to the guide to downloading your own Facebook data file >
It is surprisingly simple to find out what information Facebook is storing about you. For the past year, Facebook has made a basic archive available that allows users to download a complete history of their wall posts, photos, profile information, and private messages. More recently, they have offered an extended archive.
The extended archive goes into considerably more detail, including an accounting of the cookies Facebook has dropped on your devices, login information, deleted friends, ad tags and clicks, and an address book.
Unlike the standard archive, the extended archive does not have much of a history. For the most part, you are only given data that is about a month old, though Facebook likely has a full history of all the data in each of these categories.
While most of the information should not be too shocking — you do, after all, post and share your life on Facebook — there are a few surprises.
Facebook gives a full description here of everything that is stored in the archives, and how to block this information from being uploaded if you chose.
However, there doesn’t seem to be a way to remove all this data once it has been stored in Facebook’s database. But you can change your settings to keep Facebook from continuing to track the information going forward.
First, to access your general archive go to Account Settings > Download A Copy of Your Facebook Data. (This is a vary small link at the bottom of the section.)
> Click the large green button that says 'Start My Archive'
It took about three hours for Facebook to send me the link. Once you receive the email just click the link and download the zip file. The file size was 31.9 MB
The standard archive contents include a complete history of every wall post and private message, with the full text.
The file will be titled with your Facebook email address.
You can either click on the Index file which will take you to an internet index of all your archived files or you can click through page by page from the file on your computer.
Contents of the Standard Archive: Pictures, Wall Posts, Private Messages, Friends, and Profile Information. From here you can review every message you ever sent in full text, as well as read back through all of your wall posts -- mine goes back to 2005!
This was actually a happy surprise. You can go to the .HTML file and see an internet feed of all your albums and photos. Or the original archive download contains a separate file with a .jpeg of each of your photos.
So, if your computer ever crashes or is stolen, you can download your Facebook archive and get a complete set of all your lost photos. The image to the right shows where you can locate the .jpegs in the download.
This a list of all your current friends, and a complete list of every event you have been invited to and how you responded to the Facebook RSVP.
The activity log is an accounting of every time you have made a change to your account, terminated a web session, or logins, with data going back to the beginning of August.
In terms of the active sessions, this is a list of all of my open sessions, with a time stamp of when the session was opened and the IP address of the device.
Address book and phone numbers: Many people might want to adjust their phone settings so that Facebook does not have access to your address book!
First, while Facebook does have an Address Book function, I have never given it permission to access my address book. What this means is that Facebook has accessed my smartphone address book and imported all my numbers. It appears that this Address Book function is one of those privacy settings that defaults to allowing Facebook access.
You can turn this function off, but once the data is in the Facebook archive, there are no instructions for deleting this information.
Here is a hashtag list of all the advertising tags Facebook has assigned to me. Earlier we reported on the new Facebook feature for advertisers that allows for more precise targeting. This list, which extends to more than 100 tags covering my likes, education, where I live, and the music I listen to, is certainly a testament to how extensive this tool is.
There is also a second page that lists every ad you have clicked on in Facebook. This was less interesting, because I rarely click on Facebook ads.
This screenshot shows a glimpse of my login data going back to July 31, 2012. Facebook also has an extensive list of logout data, each cookie it has dropped (when it was dropped and when it was last active, often over a two week period), a complete time stamp, and the IP address I logged in or logged out of. There is also a list of all my geotags, showing if I have uploaded a picture or posted using a tag that lists my current location.
Facebook is not joking, this is certainly an extended archive. Here is a snapshot of everything the archive contains.
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