Saturday, April 21, 2018

Reviewing - and Cleaning Up - Your Facebook Data

Note: You may need to pay someone to help you with this process.

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Most people saw the stories about Facebook releasing your "personal" data and didn't really know what to make of it. This article will walk you through downloading your data from Facebook and then deciding whether you need to make some changes.

It's a little long, but I hope it will be worthwhile.

First: Download Your Data

Facebook will allow you to download the eight years worth of interactions. This is pretty easy. Log into Facebook and click on the "down" triangle on the top menu. Select the Settings option.

Within Settings, click on "Download a copy of your Facebook data." Follow the instructions. It will take some time to compile. You'll see why in a minute.

You'll receive an email with a link to download a zipped file.

Make sure you have enough disc space available. Do not do this on your phone! Use on a computer with enough free disc space. My zip file was 440 MB. It expands into a set of folders with an index.htm file. Very nicely done.

Once you download the file, it will have a name ending with .ZIP. If you double-click on that ZIP file, you an see the insides. If you right-click on the ZIP file you can extract all the contents. That will give you a set of folders, organized into different kinds of contents (such as photos and messages). In my case, the un-zipped data was about 1.1 GB of data.

There's one file with an internet browser icon called index.htm. If you double-click on that, it will open in your browser and will give you a web-looking view of the contents.

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Okay. Now you have your data. Let's just assume every bit of this has been sold or stolen. So it's out there somewhere. There's nothing you can do about that. But you may want to clean things up a bit so they can't be stolen again!

Second: Clean Up Your Data

As you browse through all of your past postings and communications, you may find things that you really don't want your friends, co-workers, or children seeing. If nothing else, you'll see that there's a lot of stuff here that you don't really want to broadcast too widely, such as you cell phone number or home address.

Spend some time looking through postings and messages. If there's anything there that you want to remove from Facebook (or change from public to private), you should be able to find it easily. As you browse through content, everything is labeled with the exact time and date it was posted.

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Third: Now Change Your Habits

After you've cleaned things up, you need to decide how "public" you want everything to be from now on. So go back to the Settings area in Facebook and consciously choose the level of privacy you want for various features.

Personally, I keep everything open to everyone. And then I make a point to never post anything I would feel embarrassed about later. When someone posts inappropriate things on my timeline, or in messaging, I make sure to delete it right away. This is very rare, but it definitely does happen.

I know you've heard people say that things live forever online. It's absolutely true. And you can be good about changing your passwords. But on ALL social media, you need to manage what you put up on your "wall" and what you let others associate with you.

Here's the big lesson from the recent breach with Facebook: You can be as safe as you want, but the data can still be stolen from inside the firewall. So just be diligent. If you want privacy, you need to enforce that yourself by simply not posting things.

Assume that everything you post on social media will one day be stolen, indexed, and reposted somewhere else. That's been good advice for about ten years. Now it's reality.

As Sergeant Phil Esterhaus used to say on Hill Street Blues: "Let's be careful out there."