M – Managing Your Online Data

The internet today is designed to be an incredibly complex information-gathering and processing machine. With the emergence of new regulations and privacy laws, companies are required to provide a way to retrieve the relevant data that a company has collected about its customers. Check down below to find out how to retrieve this data from your social media pages and take note of the kind of information that is collected about you on each site. Some of it may surprise you! 

On Facebook: 

To find the archive of your personal information on Facebook, use a computer and sign into Facebook. Next, navigate to Facebook Settings and click on Download a copy of your data on the bottom of the page. After re-entering your password, you will be linked to a page to download the archive. Extract the zip file and open the HTML file called index in your web browser. Contained in this file is the personal information Facebook has collected on you, including the demographic groups you have been placed in so that Facebook can sell more targeted ads. 

Facebook collects more data by far than any other social media platform. This includes: 

  • All posts, pictures, videos, comments, likes, and searches. 
  • Ad clicks, engagements, and topics 
  • Facial recognition of you and your friends 
  • Location history 
  • Recent activity 

There is much more data than what is listed above and you can read the exhaustive list here. (https://www.facebook.com/help/1701730696756992) 

On Instagram: 

Use a computer to navigate to instagram.com and sign in. Click the gear icon next to the Edit Profile button. Select Privacy and Security. Find the Data Download button and click Request Download. You will have to retype your email and password, and the data file will be sent to your email address. This process can take up to 48 hours to complete. 

Instagram shows your data in the form of JSON files. Included in these files are records of the following: 

  • All comments made on the site 
  • Time and date that you follow other users, and when they followed you 
  • Who you blocked on Instagram, and when you blocked a person 
  • When you posted to Instagram 
  • All the messages you have sent 
  • Searches you have made 
  • Complete profile information 
  • All images you have sent through DMs, uploaded, or stories that have been archived 
  • Records of ad engagements 

None of this data on Instagram is too surprising. Other than the ad engagements that try and pinpoint your demographics in order to sell targeted ads to your feed, the data here is fairly straightforward. 

On Twitter: 

To find your personal archive of information on Twitter, use a computer and sign into your account. Next click the Profile icon in the navigation bar. Select Privacy and Safety. Another menu will pull up and choose to Download an archive of your data. You will have to reenter your password to confirm the download, and you can only request this archive once a month. 

Sifting through this information is quite a chore, as Twitter gives you your personal information in the form of JSON files. The most prevalent pieces of personal information that can be found are: 

  • Your account creation location 
  • Your age and birth date 
  • Your phone number 
  • Your contact list, complete with emails and phone numbers (if given access) 
  • Entire list of direct messages and tweets – even deleted ones 
  • Your IP address and location every time you log into Twitter 

Twitter has also built a complete personalized experience-built from the engagement that you have on the platform. Using a sample Twitter account, it is safe to say it has connected interests to over 300 relevant topics and accounts it has determined a person has interest in simply by matching content posted with interest. This then is provided to advertisers to custom tailor ads to a home feed. Based on the 300 relevant people and topics, Twitter has determined almost 600 advertisers to promote. Check out this ad engagement target criteria from Hidden Valley Ranch, from this sample account: 

  • Follower look-alikes (interests based from follower information): Wendy’s, Burger King 
  • Interests (determined by engagement activity): Sports, Popeyes 
  • Languages (based on account information): English 
  • Age (based from interests): 18-54 
  • Location (gathered by Twitter on each login): Missouri 

The follower look-alikes criteria was determined from the interests of the followers. The Interests criteria was based on engagement activity with other tweets. The location was gathered by Twitter every time Twitter was logged into. Based on all this information, Hidden Valley Ranch targeted the sample person specifically with their promoted ad. 

On Snapchat: 

Navigate to https://accounts.snapchat.com/accounts/downloadmydata on a computer and sign into Snapchat with your account. After signing in, a page will be displayed that will show the information that Snapchat has collected including: 

  • Login History 
  • Snap History 
  • Chat History 
  • Purchase and Shop History 
  • User Profile/Ad Engagements 
  • Friends 
  • Account and Location History 
  • And more 

On Google: 

On a computer, navigate to https://takeout.google.com. From this page, you can sign into Google and then you will be prompted to select the services you want to retrieve your personal data from. They are all selected by default. Next, select the file sizes and compression methods (the default settings will be fine). It may take anywhere from minutes to hours for Google to compile all your information, and they will send you a link to download the archive when it is finished. 

Having used Google infrequently during the last couple years, the sample used provided a less accurate data dump as someone who utilizes the universal convenience of Google’s technological ecosystem. All settings were chosen to do the best they can to limit the amount of data Google collects, including location history.  

Todd Haselton, the Technology Products Editor for CNBC, conducted research on what Google knew about him. In a few minutes, he was able to determine that Google knew the following about him: 

  • Name, gender, birth date 
  • Cellphone numbers 
  • Recent Google searches 
  • Websites visited 
  • The operation of integrated smart home devices (what time he turned on/off his bedroom lights) 
  • Exact path of travel over the past several years, plotted on a map 
  • Interests (American football, games, jazz, audio equipment, favorite food, favorite drink, and more) 
  • Work location 
  • Home location 
  • YouTube videos searched and watched 
  • Every audio clip of his interactions with Google Assistant 
  • Every app that has been opened on his Android device, and the time he opened the app. 

Author: Quinn Johnson, Tech Assistant