There has been a lot of talk of the tremendous amount of data on Facebook that was accessible to Cambridge Analytics. We spend so much time on Facebook and tend to share so much information with the Facebook platform that I wanted to know what data Facebook had on me.
Luckily, Facebook makes it very simple for every user to download their entire history on Facebook. Here’s how I downloaded this information:
- Login to Facebook via your desktop.
- On the top right-hand corner, click on the chevron and go to “Settings”.
- You will see a small line of text that says “Download a copy of your Facebook data.” with a clickable link.
- Clicking on the “Download a copy” takes you to a page where you can select all the types of data that you’d want to download. This allows you to specifically export certain types of data, for e.g. Photos, Videos, events, etc.
- On clicking “Create”, a message is displayed which basically says, we will drop you an email when this entire backup is ready. Its obvious, we spend so much time on Facebook that the amount of content is a lot & it does take a few minutes.You also receive an email confirming that you have requested a copy of your data.
- After waiting for a few minutes, you get notifications in Facebook as well on your email that the backup is ready for download. After confirming your password, you can download a ZIP file.
- That’s it – you now have everything that Facebook has on you.
Here’s how the final extracted folder looks like.
Facebook (kinda) knows whom you’ve called or messaged.
I think of all the data that is available once you extract this zip download; the “calls_and_messages” folder is the most interesting one. This is applicable if you have installed the Facebook Messenger App.
Since I have been using an iPhone & never really used the Facebook App or the Messenger App, there was no data available on me.
Having said that, I asked a few of my friends on Facebook for help. A few of them did the above process and shared their feedback. Here are screenshots from one of these friend’s backup.
The screenshots clearly show that Facebook keeps a log of whom you called , when you called & how long the conversation took place. It also logs the type of call – whether you received it or missed it, was it an incoming call or an outgoing one. Some of the calls on the list, also had the name of the person appended to it.
Facebook also recorded some of the SMS that he’d received.
I had a word with this friend to verify this information. Interesting, he mentioned that not all calls & SMS were logged. He estimates that only 8 – 10% of the total conversations he had were logged. Also, there was no data after 2nd April 2018.
In theory, Facebook didn’t do anything wrong. While the Facebook Messenger App is being installed, you are explicitly asked for permissions by the App to read Messages & Phones. Most of the times, we blindly accept these permissions. One thing of note, prior to Android version 4.1 – there was no explicit permission to read Messages & Phone Calls. Hence, any device prior to Android 4.1 is susceptible to this – Facebook logging your Phone Calls & Messages.
Good news for iPhone users – Apple has been strict about not giving access to Phone Calls & Messages of their users. If you are an Apple user, you do not need to worry.
Your Address Book(s)
Another interesting data-source I found was under the “About Me” folder. There are a couple of files there, but the interesting one was the “your_address_books.html” file. Once you open it, you get to see a list of all your “Friends” and their contact email-id. The format is a bit weird as I saw some of my contacts having the same email-id mentioned 4 or 5 times; but the data is there.
By writing a few lines of code you can easily extract this data & use it to create a nice contact list (I built this to share my blog). One thing I did notice is that these email id’s are probably not the ones that my Friends regularly or actively use. These are; from my understanding; the “Primary” email account that a person used while signing up for Facebook.
There is tons of data in that zip file & you can spends hours reading through it.
I would really love to hear what your thoughts are on this & how much call data Facebook has on you. Do download and share how your experience was with the authenticity of this data.
The Facebook Effect
This book by David Kirkpatrick gives an insider look into the rise of Facebook and how they managed to reach such glorious heights. If you like reading about Technology or Business, I recommend you give this a read.