The Weird And Surprising Things I Found In The File Facebook Has On Me
Above Photo: There is a reason why Mark Zuckerberg is worth $92 billion. Photo / AP
It was the first day of pre-school. After my Mum leaned down and gave me one final bear hug, I was off to start my education as I casually waved her away without looking at her — clearly she was cramping my style.
I don’t remember this seminal moment, but I happened to stumble upon the footage this week by complete happenstance.
The video is of a TV screen playing an old VHS tape and appears to be taken on a camera phone. My guess is my younger sister found the tape and filmed the video to send to me.
But maybe I should just ask Facebook, because that’s where I found it — in the huge file containing my extensive Facebook history the company keeps on me.
Since the moment I, and everyone else signed up, the social media service has been collecting and keeping everything — I seriously mean everything — we have ever done on the site. All the conversations, videos, pictures and documents we have shared or have had sent to us are all held on a server somewhere with space specially dedicated to each of us.
I downloaded the cache (it’s very easy to do) to check out everything Mark Zuckerberg had on file about me from over the years.
It included scanned copies of lease forms from a previous rental property I must’ve sent to my buddies over Messenger, my current tenant ledger report, an old monthly billing statement for my home broadband, screen shots of banking transfers and seemingly endless web pages of all the banal conversations I have ever had on the platform.
It’s one thing to know Facebook holds all this data (and much more) on you but it’s another thing to trawl through it and find things even you’d forgotten about yourself.
It’s an odd feeling to think that, in some ways, Facebook knows you better than you know yourself.
Looking through the 500MB zip file you can see your “Ads History” which stores what ads you’ve ever clicked on as well as all the advertisers who Facebook has shared your contact information with.
It has facial recognition data (Facebook has 105 examples of what I look like), exhaustive photo metadata including your location and the time the photo was taken and data about every time you logged onto the site such as the IP address, location, browser and device used.
My file also contained the names and numbers for everyone in my iPhone’s contact list – and yours will too.
Facebook not only knows everything you’ve ever done on its platform but via cookies it leaves in your web browser it also tracks you wherever you go on the internet — even if you don’t use Facebook.
I, like many others, opened my Facebook account just over a decade ago. Arguably it’s the first time in history that 10 years of human behaviour has been meticulously gathered, stored and analysed by a company on this scale.
It’s called surveillance capitalism and it’s the reason why Mark Zuckerberg is worth $92 billion.
But as the public and regulators become increasingly aware of just how deep Facebook’s tentacles extend into our digital lives, the company is facing increasing political headwinds.
Earlier this month Belgium ordered Facebook to stop tracking internet users who have no accounts with the social network, or face fines of 250,000 euros a day. The ruling came amid efforts by the European Union to force Facebook to comply with stringent new privacy rules that would threaten its ability to sell advertising based on targeted user information.
Now Australia has become the latest government to turn up the heat on the Zuckerbergs of the world.
The Federal Government has ordered the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) to investigate the big tech giants in what ACCC chairman Rodd Sims said will be the broadest inquiry of its type in the world.
The ACCC’s inquiry will involve asking consumers how much they think the digital platforms know about them and comparing that to what is in fact being gathered.
“Some people have asserted that consumers know what’s going on and don’t care,” Mr Sims said last week.
“I think it’s absolutely crucial we find out what consumers do know and then let’s see whether they care. My suspicion is Facebook and Google have much more personal information about people than people realise.”
The inquiry will look at whether Facebook, Google or others have misused their power in commercial dealings.
How to download your personal data
Facebook was the first of the big social media companies to give users the ability to download a file containing their personal history on the service. Google followed in 2011 and Twitter in 2012.
It’s undeniably a good thing and means you can partake in ACCC chairman Rod Sim’s game of comparing if the amount of personal data Facebook has on you is in line with your expectations.
To download it, click at the top right of any Facebook page and select Settings.
Click “Download a copy of your Facebook data” below your General Account Settings and then click the green button.
It takes about 10 minutes for Facebook to retrieve the file and you’ll get an email and notification when it’s ready to download.
Even if you don’t use Facebook very much, you might be surprised by what you find.
I seldom use Facebook anymore and deleted the app on my phone some time ago. My profile is still up and running but even if I wanted to disconnect entirely, it feels like there’s little escape from the clutches of Facebook at this point.