Facebook knows too much about us.
This sad fact of modern life is one that the reporters and editors of Mashable know all too well. However, knowing something in the abstract is different than seeing it up close in excruciatingly personal detail.
So over the course of the past few weeks, as revelation has piled atop revelation detailing just how thoroughly Facebook has recorded and categorized every aspect of its users lives, we decided to download and explore our own personal dossiers — and what we found was, well, messy.
From the final words typed to a long-ago ex, to a presumed affinity for birds, to our lifetime GIF usage, the assembled data points form a sort of shadow self: not quite us, but not not us, either. This is how Facebook sees everyone, even if it’s not how we see ourselves.
The end result of having all this personal data haphazardly siloed in a single advertising company’s servers is anyone’s guess, but if it turns out to be a million Cambridge Analyticas spooling out over time into infinity, at least we’ll have the words of Mark Zuckerberg to comfort us on the way down: “People just submitted it. I don’t know why. They ‘trust me.’ Dumb fucks.”
It’s past time we take a look at just what exactly we trusted him with.
I could be freaked out by all the substantive data Facebook has on my personal life, or the video it stored of a much younger, skinnier me singing “La La Love You” into my old webcam, but instead I will be freaked out by this:
Dance.I have no recollection of this Santa GIF, or the context in which it was sent. (Did I transmit it? Did I receive it? And why?) Nonetheless, Facebook has captured it forever — a bizarre, 2.4 MB-sized speck of my online identity that will endure, uselessly, for as long as the social network’s servers hold.
Oh, also, my trove contained this audio clip:
Facebook is a lot of things now, but years and years of use certainly have conditioned its users away from being this weird on it, I’d wager. Were we ever so innocent?!
Leaving it behind.Image: BOB AL-GREENE/mashableThe idea of downloading my Facebook data made me nervous. Like, really really nervous. And, turns out, I was right to be nervous. Facebook has more dirt on me than my own mother.
First up, I looked at the list of advertisers with my contact info and instantly found something super odd. Twelve out of the 24 advertisers are PlayStation. There’s PlayStation Europe, France, Portugal, Italia, Nederland, Belgique, Russia—you get the picture. Here’s the thing, though: I’ve never owned a PlayStation, and I’m certain I never will.
Truth is, this rather enormous folder of photos, messages, and (hopelessly cringeworthy) timeline posts paints a pretty embarrassing picture of life in my early twenties. As I scrolled through status updates posted back in 2008, I learned that I had some, err, interesting thoughts that I felt I needed to share with the world.
Take these two gems:
Image: rachel thompson / mashableIt appears I was also a fan of esoteric, and, at times, straight-up bizarre statuses.
Image: rachel thompson / mashableI learned that my final words to my first serious boyfriend during our acrimonious breakup were this: “Try to sound like you mean it. Fin.” Clearly I believed I was living inside a black and white movie.
Sifting through message upon message, it struck me that my Facebook data was nothing more than a crypt of broken relationships and disintegrated friendships. “You’re just sorry I found out. Please stop messaging me,” reads the epitaph for mine and Emily’s friendship, d. 2010.
It dawned on me that my human mind had cleverly chosen to forget all the embarrassing things I said and did during my younger years. But, Facebook has been there all along making sure that I’d never, ever forget the time I stole my friend Emily’s boyfriend.
Buried in the Feed.Image: VICKY LETA/MASHABLEI have the most questions about the advertisers who supposedly have my “Contact info.” Does this mean my phone number? Email? And how are they using it? Most of them are concert venues that I’ve gone to, hotels I’ve stayed at, and vacation services I’ve used. But there’s also…Donald Glover? And I just have to say, it’s OK if he has my contact info and wants to use it.
One of these things is not like the others.Also, “Birds” is an ad group that I’m part of. And anyone who knows me knows that I HATE birds. I don’t remember posting about this? If this speaks to some sort of advertising strategy that plays on my FEARS, good on Facebook.
After downloading my Facebook data after 12 years on the social network I was more nostalgic than creeped out.
Quickly clicking through files of photos, messages, videos, and even pokes I remembered old roommates, college classes, and Halloween parties.
But then in the “Ad” section of my archived profile, I discovered some alarming new information: a list of advertisers who have my contact info. Granted my contact info is limited to what I have given Facebook (my personal email and an old work number), but still it was a lengthy list that included companies I thought I’d never interacted with (Viking River Cruises and Brave New Look) or have never heard of (what is Jaanuu doing on there? Apparently it’s medical apparel company). Here’s the full list:
Advertisers with your contact info
Brave New Look
Condé Nast Traveler
Best Tabletop Games Crowdfunding Projects
Best Crowdfunding Videos
Design Crowdfunding Projects
Tech Crowdfunding Projects
Best Crowdfunding Projects
Best Design Crowdfunding Videos
Tabletop Games Crowdfunding Videos
Viking River Cruises
Tabletop Games Crowdfunding Projects
Best Tech Crowdfunding Videos
Tech Crowdfunding Videos
Amazing Tech Crowdfunding Projects You Need To See
Amazing Design Crowdfunding Projects You Need To See
Best Design Crowdfunding Projects
Best Tech Crowdfunding Projects
Viking Ocean Cruises
Best Tabletop Games Crowdfunding Videos
It’s pretty funny looking back at when I became friends with my college buddies, then work friends, and later grad school friends. Some years were better for the volume of Facebook friendships than others.
The worst section is the “Sent Friend Requests” that are still pending. It’s clearly laid out who I’ve requested to be my friend, but they haven’t bothered to accept my request. Thanks a lot.
You can also see all your “Declined Friend Requests” and “Removed Friends” which is not that fun, but this is all part of your online history.
Breaking that social-media heart.Image: BOB AL-GREENE/MASHABLEI’m over my past relationships, but apparently Facebook isn’t.
When I downloaded my Facebook data, the part that most caught me by surprise wasn’t how Britney Spears and Thirty Seconds to Mars has my contact info for advertising, but rather it was the fact that the first page of my Profile showed “Previous Relationships.” Yup, right under my current “Relationship Status” was my “Previous Relationships,” and it listed three names.
The sad truth is I shouldn’t be surprised. I was, actually, I continue to be one of those girls who says relationships aren’t real unless they’re on Facebook, and now I’m just paying the price. Facebook’s user data profile on me includes the names of two of my exes and the name of one of my best friends, who I jokingly entered an “It’s Complicated” Facebook relationship with in high school. None of that is easily digestible on my public Facebook profile, unless you were to scroll through my Timeline, and I’m thankful for that sense of privacy.
There is one sense of privacy, however. The data profile I downloaded doesn’t show the name of an ex I currently have blocked on Facebook. Thanks to Facebook’s blocking feature it appears that neither myself nor anyone who nefariously accesses my data will be able to see the name of someone I don’t feel comfortable talking to. So, thanks Zuck. I’ll make sure to keep you updated how this current relationship goes.
Throw it away.Image: CHRISTOPHER MINESES/MASHABLEI don’t use Facebook much anymore, but I’ve had an account for more than a decade so going through all my data is a strange look into the past.
The first thing I notice are all my old “timeline” posts from back when it was your “Wall.” Remember how friends used to write messages on your profile? I think it was a holdover from Myspace or something, but it now seems weird to me that we’d all publicly write each other notes that anyone could see. God, these are all so, so cringeworthy now — lots of dumb inside jokes and very thinly veiled references to things that should have never been on social media. I text screenshots to a couple friends who remind me this was back when you had to be in college to have a Facebook account and we never thought “real adults” would be able to see any of this.
I find messages I exchanged with an old friend from elementary school who died a couple years ago and it’s a little bit jarring. We both went to college in the Bay Area and had talked about grabbing coffee to catch up, but we never did. Now I feel bad we didn’t.
I click over to ads and I’m proud to say my “ad history” only has three ads in it. Two that I hid and one I’m pretty sure I clicked on by mistake. The “advertisers with your contact” info section is mostly unsurprising, except for two: “Viking River Cruises” (is it because I used to watch a lot of PBS??) and PediaSure, which I learn is some kind of nutritional drink for young kids. I have no idea where that came from, but I’m more confused than creeped out.
I start to go through old messages but stop when I realize I don’t know who most of these people are anymore, which reminds me why I don’t use Facebook much anymore in the first place.