Facebook recently announced a feature that lets users download a copy of their profile and content, and now it’s becoming available for some users. In a downloadable zip file, users get html files which include their entire profile, wall, Event history, messages, Notes, a list of their friends, . jpgs of their photos, and .mp4s of their videos, as well as an index file for navigating the content. The data can be used as a diary, or to replace other information from a hard drive crash or stolen computer — but not necessarily to switch to a different social network.
Downloading the Zip File of Your Information
To access the Download Your Information feature, go to Account->Account Settings->Download Your Information and click “learn more”. Users are then shown a description of what their download will include, a security warning, and a privacy warning stating that the file will contain sensitive information and that users should “take precautions when storing, sending or uploading it to any other services.”
Once users click “Download”, the button will change to read “Pending” and users are informed that they will receive a download link via email. For users with a lot of content, the wait can be several hours. Users will eventually receive a “Your download is ready” email from Facebook containing a link back to the Download Your Information page. Users are prompted to re-enter their password and possibly complete other security tests before being allowed to initiate the download of the zip file, which comes from a “bigzipfiles.facebook.com” URL.
Download Your Information Zip File Contents
Once downloaded, unzipped and opened, users will see folders of HTML files, photos, videos, a README.txt stating when the file was downloaded and by who (this info is appended to the bottom of each html page), and an index.html file. Inside the folders are the following parts of a user’s profile, which can be opened separately or navigated through the index:
A complete read-out of a user’s profile including basic information, Facebook profile URL, contact information, profile picture, relationships, education and work info, Likes and interests, and Groups (including secret Groups) of which the user is a member.
A reverse chronological read-out of all wall posts and content uploaded by the user or their friends to the user’s profile, including status updates. Links are active and show the thumbnail and blurb of sites, but embedded content such as YouTube videos or mp3s will appear as external links. Photos and videos posted to the wall, including content the user is tagged in, link locally to the downloaded folders containing that content. Users can see Likes and comments to any wall post.
A text-only list of all of a user’s current friends, sorted alphabetically by first name. Names are not linked and contain no additional information, such as email addresses or phone numbers. Only a user’s current friends appear.
All of the Notes a user has created, including embedded photos and links. Comments are included below each Note, but Likes are absent. Notes a user is tagged in are not included.
Event details and descriptions of every Event a user has RSVP’d to as “Attending” or “Maybe”. Each listing links to the original Facebook Event page. Event images, wall posts, guest lists, secondary hosts, privacy settings, personal invite messages, and a user’s own RSVP are not included, but can be viewed on the Event page.
A threaded read-out of all of a user’s sent and received messages, sorted reverse chronologically by the send date of the latest message in the thread. Attached content is shown as links.
Separate html files for each of a user’s photo albums, with profile pictures and photos a user is tagged in compiled into a “Profile Pictures” album. Each photo displays its caption, associated tags, and comments, but not Likes. Each photo in the album links locally to the corresponding downloaded photo.
All of the videos a user has uploaded. Videos a user is tagged in do not appear. Videos can be played within the html file as they link locally to the downloaded videos. Each video is accompanied by its title, tags and comments, but not Likes.
The “photos” folder contains folders for each of a user’s albums. Within each album folder are .jpg image files of each photo from the album. Photos without captions are named with a long string of numbers corresponding to the album, causing them to be grouped by album when sorted by name. Photos with captions are named as the first 50 characters of the caption.
The “videos” folder contains video files of all the videos a user has uploaded. Videos come back as .mp4 files regardless of the format in which they were uploaded.
What’s Not Included
The following types of content are absent from the download:
- Contact info of friends
- A list of installed applications or any content from within those applications
- A list of Pages a user is an admin of, or any content from within those Pages
- Groups content
- Facebook Questions data, such as a user’s asked or answered questions
At the launch event for the feature, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg explained that users wouldn’t be able to download contact information of friends because “what we’re focusing on…is your information, stuff that you put into the site, you should be able to take out. Not your friends’ information, because that’s not your information.” However, Facebook says it will be gathering feedback on the feature, and it will improve over future iterations.
Users wishing to preserve the memories they have created on Facebook will enjoy the new-found ability to download a history of their content. While the ability to download phone numbers, email addresses, and other contact information of friends would be useful, the capability would also open the feature to abuse. For instance, spammers could try to buy or steal a user’s Facebook information file.
What’s unfortunate is the lack of Likes on photos, videos, and Notes. Facebook has created a great system of distinguishing a user’s most compelling content, but has stripped it from much of the downloadable content. Many might enjoy the ability to see, or even sort by which of their photos received the most Likes.
The data in the file is designed for use by humans, and it may be difficult for users to use Download Your Information to migrate to a different social network. Still, the feature should help dispel the perception of Facebook as a company seeking to monopolize control of online identity. The questions remains whether third-parties will develop apps that use the data.