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Here’s how to see the data that tech giants have about you

Facebook, Apple, Google, and Twitter probably have more info about you than you think. And the only way to know for sure is to download it all.

Here’s how to see the data that tech giants have about you
[Illustration: Rawpixel]

The Facebook-Cambridge Analytica scandal that broke earlier this year will probably hold the crown as 2018’s biggest story in tech. It came to light that upwards of 87 million Facebook users had their Facebook data harvested–most without their knowledge–which was used to help sway public opinion in political events, including the 2016 U.S. presidential election and the 2016 EU referendum in the U.K., which resulted in Brexit.

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The fallout has seen Facebook embroiled in its biggest crisis yet, prompting the social network to commit to a raft of changes to the way it handles (and lets others access) user data. It’s also left average everyday internet users with new questions about what data the tech giants hold about us—and what they’re doing with it.

That’s why we’ve put together this guide. We’ll show you how to to find and download the data that Facebook, its subsidiary Instagram, Apple, Google (including YouTube), and Twitter have on you. (The data they’re willing to provide, that is—which in some cases falls short of including everything they’ve collected and stored.)

As you’ll see, some of these companies have made the job easier than others. It’s also important to note that downloading your data doesn’t take it away from the company in question. Each tech giant will still retain the data it has about you. But at least you’ll have a better sense of what they know.

How to download your Facebook data

A word of warning: Depending on how long you’ve used Facebook, you might be shocked at how much data it has on you. We’re not just talking about photos you’ve posted and places where you’ve checked in. Facebook’s data on you often include things like your political views, who you’ve unfriended, and even facial recognition data. It’s all very Nineteen Eighty-Four. Still interested in going down this rabbit hole? Here’s how:

  1. Go to the “Your Facebook Information” page of your Facebook account.
  2. Next to the “Download Your Information” menu, click the View button.
  3. On the “Download Your Information” page, you’ll see a checklist of the items you can include in your download. These range from Posts to Calls and Messages. Our advice is to make sure all of these options are checked, so you can see everything the company has on you.
  4. Under the New File menu at the top of the page, choose your data range (select “all of my data”), the format you want the data in (HTML is easiest) and the media quality (“high” is best if you want good copies of all your photos).
  5. Now click the Create File button.
  6. Next, you’ll get an email from Facebook saying that it’s working on compiling the information. You’ll get another email when the information is available for download. Follow the link in the email to download all your Facebook data as a zip file.
  7. Inside that file, you’ll find folders along with an HTML file. Click on the HTML file to begin navigating all the information Facebook has on you.

How to download your Instagram data

Downloading your Facebook data doesn’t include any data the company has on you via its Instagram app. If you want all that info, you’ll need to download it separately:

  1. Make sure you’re logged into your Instagram account in your web browser.
  2. Go to the Data Download Tool page. On this page, you’ll see a note saying “We’ll email you a link to a file with your photos, comments, profile information, and more. We can only work on one request from your account at a time, and it may take up to 48 hours to collect this data and send it to you.”
  3. Enter your email address in the field on the page and then click the Next button.
  4. On the next page, enter your Instagram password.
  5. Now click the Request Download button.
  6. Once you’ve done this, Instagram will begin assembling a file with all your videos, photos, messages, and comments you’ve posted. Wait patiently for the email from Instagram, then click on the link it contains to download your info. Open the downloaded zip file to see everything the visual social network has on you.

How To Download Your Google Data

When it comes to collecting data about you, Google is almost as scary as Facebook in terms of what the company collects and stores. This is all the more true if you’re a big user of Google’s services such as Gmail and G Suite. Not only does Google have a copy of every email you’ve sent or received, but if you use its Maps app, it may have a history of your locations. The company also knows every Google News article you’ve ever read, everything you’ve ever searched for, and every query you’ve asked Google Assistant. Have I mentioned it knows about the YouTube videos you’ve watched?

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  1. Go to Google’s Takeout page (make sure you are logged into your Google account on the web first).
  2. Select all the data you want to include in your download. Again, we recommend you “select all” just so you can be sufficiently frightened by the scope of the data.
  3. Click the Next button at the bottom of the page.
  4. On the next page, you’ll be asked to customize your Google data archive format. We recommend you choose a zip file and select 50GB as the maximum archive size. If Google has more than 50GB of data about you–and there is a good chance it does–you’ll get links to multiple zip files.
  5. You’ll also be asked to select your delivery method. The default is receiving a download link via email, but Google also gives you some nice options like automatically adding your archive to your Google Drive or Dropbox account.
  6. After you’ve made your choices, click the Create Archive button. Depending on how much data Google has on you, it could be a day or so before your archive is ready. You’ll be notified by email when it is.

How to download your Twitter data

Twitter probably has a fraction of the data on you that other tech giants possess. It’s pretty much limited to your tweets, ad clicks, followers, tweet location history, and any media you’ve uploaded.

  1. Log into your Twitter account on the web and go to your account settings.
  2. Click “Request your archive.”
  3. Twitter doesn’t give you the option of what data to include in your archive. When the archive is ready, you’ll get an email with a “Go” button in it. Click on the Go button to log in to your Twitter account and download a ZIP file of your Twitter archive.
  4. Unzip the file and click the “index.html” file to view your archive.

How to download your Apple data

Compared to Facebook and Google, Apple keeps amazingly little data on its users. The company only stores records of the content you’ve downloaded through its various stores, such as the iTunes Store, the App Store, and the iBooks and Podcasts stores. The company also retains data about your Apple hardware purchases, as well as repair history and customer service requests.

Apple has just unveiled a new tool that allows people with Apple IDs to request a download of all the information the company keeps on them. For now, however, it’s only available if your Apple ID is registered in an EU or EEA (Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway, and Switzerland) country. Apple says the tool will roll out to other users globally “in the coming months.” If you’re outside the EU and EEA, you can still get your data, but it takes more work:

  1. Go to Apple’s Privacy Policy page.
  2. Under the section titled “Access to Personal Information,” the company says that Apple will provide you with a copy of the information it holds on you, if requested.
  3. Now click the “Privacy Contact Form” link.
  4. Next, choose your language.
  5. In the “I have a question about” drop-down menu, select Privacy Issues.
  6. Fill in your first and last name, your email, and the subject. In the comments section add a note that you are requesting a copy of your personal information.
  7. Click the submit button.
  8. The next step involves waiting about five business days. In that time Apple’s privacy team will reach out to you with a series of security questions to prove your identity. These questions might include queries about your personal information, your Apple ID, a previous AppleCare case support number, or one of your Apple product’s serial numbers.
  9. After you provide this information you’ll need to wait up to another five business days. Then you’ll get a second email from Apple with a password-protected zip file attached. Another email will have the password required to open the zip file. This file includes a spreadsheet with all the data Apple has on you.

Those in the EU and EEA can use the new tool:

  1. Go to Apple’s new Data and Privacy website.
  2. Enter your Apple ID username and password.
  3. On the next screen, click Continue.
  4. Under the “Get a copy of your data”, click the Get Started button.
  5. On the next page, you’ll see a list of all the data Apple has on you broken down into categories. Select the data you want to download by checking the tick box next to it.
  6. Now click Continue.
  7. On the next screen use the drop-down menu to choose a maximum file size that you want to download your data in. Choices are 1GB, 2GB, 5GB, 10GB, or 25GB. Apple will use your selection to divide your data into files of this size or smaller.
  8. Click Complete Request to confirm your download choices. After you’ve done this, Apple will then email you letting you know your data is being gathered and it will send you a download link within seven days when it is available. Apple uses this time period to make sure your data was actually requested by you and not someone else.

Compare the data Apple has on you versus what Google and Facebook keep, and you’ll understand why Tim Cook said Apple wouldn’t be in Facebook’s situation.

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