If you can’t bring yourself to delete your Facebook account entirely, you’re probably thinking about sharing a lot less private information on the site. The company actually makes it pretty easy to find out how much data it’s collected from you, but the results might be a little scary.
When software developer Dylan McKay went and downloaded all of his data from Facebook, he was shocked to find that the social network had timestamps on every phone call and SMS message he made in the past few years, even though he says doesn’t use the app for calls or texts. It even created a log of every call between McKay and his partner’s mom.
To get your own data dump, head to your Facebook Settings and click on “Download a copy of your data” at the bottom of the page. Facebook needs a little time to compile all that information, but it should be ready in about 10 minutes based on my own experience. You’ll receive a notification sending you to a page where you can download the data—after re-entering your account password, of course.
The (likely huge) file downloads onto your computer as a ZIP. Once you extract it, open the new folder and click on the “index.html” to view the data in your browser.
Be sure to check out the Contact Info tab for a list of everyone you’ve ever known and their phone number (creepy, Facebook). You can also scroll down to the bottom of the Friends tab so see what phase of your life Facebook thinks you’re in —I got “Starting Adult Life.”
McKay also set up a script on Github to analyze the data for you, but even with the included instructions it’s not the most user-friendly tool if you aren’t already a competent coder. You’re probably better off just sifting through the data yourself—a fun weekend project, no?
Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg will testify before Congress this week to explain how his company collects and handles users’ personal information.
The past few weeks have been difficult for Facebook over concerns that the data of millions of users has been breached.
Facebook stores details of almost every action you have taken and interaction you have engaged in on its platform.
What many Facebook users are unaware of, though, is that you can easily download and see all the information Facebook has collected from you in just a few minutes.
Here’s how to find out what data Facebook has collected over time, including all your past posts, messages, photos, videos and more.
Here’s how to Download Your Facebook Data:
Facebook will then let you download a zipped folder titled “facebook-yourusername.” Once you unzip it, you will find that it contains a few different folders—for photos, videos, messages, an ‘html’ folder of other data, and a .htm Index file to help you navigate through different sections or categories of data.
What You Can Expect To Find
In the Index.htm→Profile section, you will find some basic information about your profile including any profile names you have had in the past, all your contact info, any pages and interests you liked, groups you joined, and any Facebook pages you are a page administrator for.
The Contact Info section contains all the contacts on your mobile phone. You may also find additional info if you used an Android phone—it was recently revealed that Facebook scraped Android users’ call and text message data through a default opt-in feature many users weren’t explicitly aware of.
The Timeline section contains all your status updates and posts from friends on your timeline. The Photos and Videos sections contain photos and videos you posted; the former also contains code about your Facial Recognition info.
The Friends section contains a list of all your Facebook friends along with the date you become friends. It also contains a list of friends you unfriended and when, friend requests you declined, a list of friend requests you sent that are pending being accepted, a list of people who “Follow” you by clicking the follow button on your profile, and anyone you are following.
It also has a section called “Friend Peer Group“—what Facebook determines your life to be. For instance, if you are in your twenties, you may be identified as “Starting Adult Life.”
The index also contains information about every Event invite you got, every Poke and Message you’ve sent or received (even if you are not Facebook friends with the person, or if they are no longer on Facebook), any Facebook applications you installed (even if you don’t use them anymore), and any Facebook “Places” (locations) you may have created.
There’s also a Security section tracking IP addresses, devices and browsers you logged in from with dates and timestamps.
The Ads section is very interesting. It contains a list of Ad Topics you are being targeted for based on interests gleaned from Facebook pages you liked.
There’s also a list of the recent ads you clicked on and any advertisers that have your contact information. You can find (and remove) additional ads and ad topics you are being targeted for by visiting: https://www.facebook.com/ads/preferences/.
The amount of data Facebook can collect is admittedly staggering. For regular Facebook users, who’ve been on the platform for some time, downloading and going through one’s digital footprint can definitely make one a little squeamish (and not just because of your status messages from 2008 that seemed so witty back in the day!).
Daunting as the experience might be, being aware of what information of yours is being collected is the first step to securing it.
How to hunt down people — even if they don’t want to be found.
I think everyone should have decent online stalking skills. Not because I condone stalking, but because knowledge is power — if you don’t know how to find people online, how do you know what people can find about you online?
Googling yourself is like checking your credit report for inaccuracies: it’s only effective as a preventative measure if you do it thoroughly and routinely. Whether you’re looking for yourself or a friend (no judgment), here are five tips for finding out anything, about anyone, online:
Plug everything you know into Google.
It doesn’t matter how little you know about the person you’re looking for, your search is going to start with Google. And it should, because Google is a powerful tool (especially when you know how to use it ). But if you don’t know anything particularly identifying about the person you’re looking for (such as their email address), it’s better to skip the fancy search hacks and go straight to plugging in keywords. Open up Google and type in everything you know about the person in keyword format; for example, “sarah los angeles writer tech.” Even if you only know their first name, keywords related to their job, marital status, location and school will likely bring up social networks or other identifiable results.
Use Facebook’s People Search.
If no social networks pop up in your initial Google search, you may need to go into the social networks themselves. Facebook is the most popular social network, and it has the most robust search engine, so you should probably start there. Facebook’s People Search lets you search for people by filling in one or more search boxes: Name, hometown, current city, high school, mutual friend, college or university, employer, and graduate school. If you know one or two of these things about your subject, you can narrow down your search and then browse through the photo results.
If your subject has no social media presence, try to find their friends and family members; it’s possible they’re hiding their account behind a fake name. If you have no idea who their friends and family members are, and you know their full name, use a free people search like Intelius to look up relatives. and then hunt down those relatives.
Individual data points don’t mean anything unless they can be connected to other data points to make up a person’s online presence. Once you have several facts about your subject, you’ll need to use your brain to make connections and fill in the blanks. For example, if you know your subject’s name, job title, and location, you can probably find their LinkedIn profile. On their LinkedIn profile, they’ve probably listed their undergraduate degree and when they graduated from college, which means you can work backward to figure out approximately how old they are.
Remember people are not very creative.
If you can find someone’s username, Twitter account, personal email address or YouTube profile, you may have hit gold. People, for the most part, aren’t very creative when it comes to mixing up usernames (or passwords ), so they’ve likely recycled that username many times over. Start by plugging their username into Google, but also look through social networks, forums such as Reddit, and blogs for old comments or posts.
A picture is worth a thousand words.
People recycle usernames, passwords, and social media profile pictures. Grab their profile pic from their Facebook or Twitter account and plug it into a reverse image lookup such as TinEye. TinEye will scan the image and then spit back all other instances of that image that it finds on the web — this is a great way to find now-defunct social media profiles, old LiveJournals, and online dating profiles. You can also use Google Images to do a reverse image search by going to Google Images, clicking the camera icon in the search box, and uploading the image you want to search.
Facebook keeps an Activity Log of absolutely everything you do—tracking things you like, post, or share on someone’s Timeline. You can view that Activity Log anytime you like. Here’s how.
What Activity Log Is Useful For
While being able to scroll back through every Facebook interaction you’ve ever had might seem a little terrifying (yes, you really did like that many cat photos) and even creepy, it’s actually useful.
Look at your News Feed and you’ll see dozens of posts your friends have liked or commented on. If they haven’t shared them, those items don’t appear on their timeline. Your friends get all the same notifications from you. The only way you can see what they all might see is through your Activity Feed. Just look at each item and you’ll see who can see it. In the screenshot below, for example, all of Ferdy’s friends can see that I’ve commented on his post. It’s likely that Facebook’s algorithm has shown that activity to some of our mutual Friends as well.
Activity Feed is also good for making sure apps aren’t doing stuff without you knowing about it. Our editor, for example, says he checks it every time he gives a new app permission to do something, just to make sure it hasn’t posted to his timeline or done something crazy. You can see below that, although Spotify has pushed something to Facebook, only I can see it (the lock icon indicates that it’s private).
From the Activity Feed, you can even undo anything you’ve done on Facebook. Click the “edit” button (the little Pen icon) next to any post and you can unlike, delete, or hide that post. If someone decides to “frape” you by liking a few hundred Justin Bieber fan pages, Activity Feed is the simplest way to undo the damage.
How to Access Your Facebook Activity Log
Log in to Facebook, head to your profile, and then click the “View Activity Log” button at the bottom right of your cover photo.
Now you’ll see everything you’ve ever done on Facebook in one big list.
If you’re looking for specific posts, you can use the “Activity Search” box. You can also filter the feed so you just see specific posts by selecting one of the options in the sidebar on the left. And you can navigate by year with the sidebar on the right.
You can also view your Activity Log in the mobile app. Head to your profile and tap “Activity Log” underneath your cover photo.
Back up your Facebook information on your computer or mobile device
Whether you’re planning on deleting your Facebook account or just want a backup of all your data from the social network, the process isn’t too complex.
With a backup, you have your own offline copy of all the photos you’ve posted to the social media site in one single folder, which you can easily store on a CD, DVD, or computer. If Facebook ever crashes and burns, all your selfies and other personal photos and information won’t go down with it.
Download Your Facebook Information on the Web
Facebook makes it pretty easy to save all your stuff, including photos, videos, message transcripts, and friends lists:
Click the triangle in the top right corner of the Facebook screen.
Select Settings from the menu.
Click or press Your Facebook Information.
Go to Download Your Information and click View.
Select All of my data or pick one of the other options available to you.
Choose HTML or JSON (choose HTML if you’re unsure) in the drop-down menu, and then select High, Medium, or Low media quality.
High is probably the best choice for most. This will get you all those shared photos and videos back to you in the highest possible quality.
You can pick and choose the various types of Facebook data via checkboxes, but it’s probably best to check them all.
Click or press Create File to confirm the download request.
Be ready to wait, especially if you’ve been on Facebook for a long time.
When the file is ready, Facebook will send you a notice. Follow the instructions to download the copy of your Facebook data.
You won’t receive the download immediately. You can opt to download everything or only certain categories of information, but either way, you have to wait a few days to receive a message from Facebook that your password-protected download is ready.
Follow the Email Link
Within a few days, Facebook sends a link to download the file. The link takes you back to Facebook, where you are asked one more time to re-enter your Facebook password. After you do, you can save the file as a zipped (compressed) file on your computer. Point to the folder you want to store it in, and Facebook drops the file on your drive.
The different types of information appear in folders. You can find your photos in a folder called Photos. Inside, each album has its own folder.
How to Look at, Not Download, Your Information on the Web
You don’t have to download your Facebook information if you are only curious about what is in it. Select Access Your Information on the Your Facebook Information page to look at your information without downloading it. Click any of the categories that are listed on the page that opens. Click on any of the same topics you see on the download page — such as Posts or Likes and Reactions — to see the information Facebook has saved on you. Unlike downloading, this process is quick, and you can see the information right away.
Download Your Information on the Facebook Mobile App
If you use Facebook on your iOS or Android mobile device, you can download your data to your device.
Open the Facebook app and tap the three-bar menu icon.
Select Settings & Privacy > Settings.
Scroll down to the Your Facebook Information section.
Tap Download Your Information.
Tap the circles next to categories of data to add or remove them from the download.
Select other options that include the format, quality of photos and videos, and a specific date range if you don’t want all your information to download.
Tap Create File to confirm.
It may take several days before you receive a notification from Facebook that your download is ready. Follow the directions in the message to download your password-protected backup.
If you only want to view your information and not download it, select Access Your Information in the Your Facebook Information section of the settings.
Facebook ads have been under a lot of criticism as of late. It’s come to light that Facebook hasn’t been very selective, careful, or conscientious about the kinds of ads that are displayed on its network. Its targeting of these ads is also being heavily criticized and rightly so. That said, not all Facebook ads are evil. A lot of people find useful pages through these ads. The thing with ads on Facebook is that you can’t go back to your timeline and expect the same ad to be there even fifteen minutes later. If you liked something in a Facebook ad, you should definitely tap it. It doesn’t matter if you browse the whole page or not. Tapping/interacting with an ad actually bookmarks it. You can later find a Facebook ad you clicked on and revisit it.
You can find a Facebook ad you clicked on from either the iOS or Android app. It doesn’t matter if you clicked on the ad on your desktop or on your phone. Facebook will keep track of them so you can find them later. This feature is selectively available so not everyone might be able to benefit from it until there is a global roll-out.
Find A Facebook Ad You Clicked On
Open the Facebook app and tap the more tab. Scroll down and look for the Recent Ad Activity option. Again, not everyone will be able to see it. We’re just speculating here but it’s possible this option is enabled for users who have purchased ads on Facebook. Tap Recent Ad Activity and you’ll get a feed dedicated to all the ads you ever clicked/tapped on.
The ad activity goes as far back as three months at least. Facebook announced this feature in September but it still had details of ads I had tapped on in August. There’s no way to purge this history of ads so be careful what you tap on.
We should point out that only ads you actually visit count and appear under Recent Ad Activity, if you browse the image drawer in an ad, it won’t count as you interacting with an ad.
Facebook means for this to be a simple way for users to find useful ads again and that’s kind of clever. If you want to look at a product you liked but you can’t remember the page or you didn’t save it, this is the most convenient way to find it again. Needless to say, pages that advertise on Facebook will appreciate the feature more since it technically gives their ads a dedicated place inside a user’s feed. More importantly, the user is more likely to make a purchase having already shown interest in the product once.
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Some people on Facebook may opt to hide their friends list from you. WonderHowTo shares some tricks on revealing those “private” lists.
Once you have your target picked out, the process is pretty simple. Follow these steps to start uncovering their friends:
- To start, you’ll need to do a little detective work. Identify a probable friend of your intended target. Think of where your target works, groups they could be members of, and people they might associate themselves with. If you don’t anything to go on, use Facebook’s Graph Search feature to find potential friends.
- Once you’ve nailed down a friend of your target, you need to find out both of their account ID names. You can find these by going to their Facebook page and looking at the end of the URL. It will read https://www.facebook.com/ACCOUNT_ID .
With both user’s IDs, insert them into a URL that looks like this: https://www.facebook.com/TARGET_ID/friends?and=FRIEND_OF_TARGET_ID
- With that search, you’ll see every friend that they have in common. From there, it’s a process of elimination until you uncover all of your target’s friends. If they have 300 friends and your search came up with 50 friends in common, you know there are still 250 friends to identify. Repeat the process to reveal them all, but it should be easier once you’ve discovered the first round of Facebook friends.
Chances are you don’t need to see their whole friends list, but if you do, there’s also a script that’ll automate the process for you at the link below. This logical approach to uncovering hidden friends doesn’t break any rules and is easy to do if you have a little time.
- Click to share on Twitter (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Facebook (Opens in new window)
- Click to share on Pinterest (Opens in new window)
Social media is your connection gateway. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest make staying in touch simple. While keeping connected is easy thanks to social media, some can and do “get lost” among the billions of users in the jungle of posts, tweets and pins.
What do you do if you’re searching for a loved one, a forgotten friend or an old acquaintance and the search results are too broad? There are a few free methods for looking people up on social media.
Try the following techniques to locate a person online, and tap or click here to add Kim as a friend.
How does one “get lost” on social media?
You may find it challenging to find someone on social media due to a variety of reasons. Maybe (s)he doesn’t want a huge social media presence and is hiding behind a nickname or false name.
It may be that the person you’re seeking has a common name, which can return a considerable number of search results. It’s also possible the person changed their name. Sometimes people just want to keep their personal data private, so finding them becomes a million times more difficult. If you also want to hide your data, tap or click here.
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1. Start at the beginning
A Facebook search is one of the best places to start looking for someone online. Although you should search each of the different platforms, begin with Facebook as it’s the world’s largest social networking site. This considerably improves your odds of finding people.
You can search for someone using various filters, just type the person’s name in the search bar, then click on the People tab. Once the search results appear, tap See All.
From this list, you’re able to choose to filter the results by Friends of Friends, City, Education and Work. To help refine your search, pick a combination of filters.
2. A friend of a friend
If you believe you and the person you are searching for have a friend in common, click on that Friend’s tab to view a list of their friends.
In addition, you can search the People You May Know page, which can be found on the Find Friends page. There is also a setting to turn on suggestions for People You May Know in your News Feed and notifications.
Log into Facebook and click on Settings from the drop-down arrow beside the question mark icon at the top of the page. Open the Notifications page from the left panel and open the drop-down menu for People You May Know. From here, you can decide whether you want these notifications and whether you receive push notifications, emails or SMS messages.
If you don’t want to use this option, when you log into Facebook, look at the top panel and tap on the button next to Create that looks like two people. This will show you your friend requests and will also share a list of People You May Know, based on the number of friends you have in common.
3. A web address may be the key
Another search technique is to use a person’s name at the end of social media sites.
People often use the same username across social media, which is the case for our very own Kim Komando. Add “kimkomando” to other social media addresses, and you’ll see Kim has an account on each platform with the same username:
4. Reverse that
One final option for Facebook is to perform a reverse phone number lookup simply by typing their phone number into the search bar.
While it’s not common for someone to share their phone number within a Facebook post, this method may prove helpful because people often connect their phone number for verification purposes. One security feature Facebook provides is to send a text message to users when their account is accessed from unfamiliar locations or devices.
If you happen to have a person’s number, but can’t find them on social media, this is a great option.
5. Give Google a go
What if you know very little about the person you’re looking for? While it may seem your search has ended before it had a chance to begin, remember Google is a powerful tool that can make your search easier. Type in details like their name or username along with keywords related to location, marital status or occupation to refine the results.
Did your name and keyword search result in an enormous amount of information, or did it fail to return any findings? You can give Google another try by doing an image search.
Start at images.google.com and enter the person’s name. Like your original Google search, you can help narrow down the results by including additional information such as where the person lives or works.
Scroll through the images. Once you find their picture, click on it to visit its linked social media page.
6. Try PeekYou
If you’re still having trouble locating someone, it’s time to try dedicated people search sites. These search engines are helpful in cases where you don’t know the person’s name, or if (s)he doesn’t use social media.
Although most sites charge for detailed information, PeekYou is a free people search site that collects and combines publicly available content from social media sites, homepages, blogs and news sources. With this information, the site determines a person’s online identity.
While these techniques should help you locate a person online, there are no guarantees. Keep refining your searches with as much applicable information as possible and hopefully you’ll find the person you’re looking for.
Facebook doesn’t have an easy-to-use advanced search engine, so one guy built his own. “Search Is Back” lets you use familiar drop-down menus to find people by city, relationship status, school, first name, and more. Plus you can search for photos, events, posts, and other stuff.
What’s special here is that you don’t need to know Facebook’s complicated Graph Search terms like “Friends of Friends named Sarah who went to Stanford and work at Google”. Search Is Back turns your simple menu selections into the proper URL and sends you to the search results page on Facebook’s official site with no extra login required.
Unfortunately, the product usually only works for people in the US who have received the Graph Search rollout. One thing that helps is adjusting your Facebook language setting to US English if you don’t use that already.
Some examples of what you could use Search Is Back to search for include:
- What people from your home town are single and live in your current city
- Who your friends of friends are at a company with a job you’re applying for
- Which friends live in a city you’re visiting
- All the photos tagged with two particular people (not that you’d stalk your ex)
- Events happening tonight that your friends are invited to, so you can find something to do
- Posts from friends about London, so you can get recommendations for a vacation
- Friends in your city that Like a certain musician, so you can find people to go to the concert with
Search Is Back was built by Michael Morgenstern, a filmmaker from San Francisco who was fed up with how hard it was to search Facebook.
Facebook declined my request for comment regarding Search Is Back. However, a close reading of its Platform Policies shows Facebook doesn’t technically prohibit how the site works.
The social network made a big deal of its Graph Search feature for finding specific things back in 2013, but using sentences instead of traditional keywords confused people. In fact, Facebook VP of Search Tom Stocky told me in October that “the interaction model for search with these natural language phrases was not right for a mass audience.”
So then Facebook launched full-text post search, but that made Graph Searching even tougher since Facebook would confuse sentences for keywords. Facebook does have some advanced search features, but they’re split up and buried in weird places like the Find Friends tool and the sidebar options of old-school pre-Graph searches.
Search Is Back developer Michael Morgenstern
Morgenstern tells me “it sucked” how Facebook screwed up search. So he “did a lot of poking around” to find out what Facebook URLs did what, and since Search Is Back doesn’t use Facebook’s API, it might be harder to shut down.
Like a true hacker, Morgenstern just wanted to play around with what was possible on the web that won’t work with mobile apps. He says “We’re moving towards an app ecosystem where it’s not possible to build things like Search Is Back because all these apps are walled gardens. So in the dying days of open HTML web, it’s imperative to build these tools and customize what people give us.”
Facebook might find a way to shut down Search Is Back, but until then, it’s a free and privacy-safe way to find anything on Facebook with a simple set of boxes.