What does my Facebook data say about me – and how do I access it?

What is Facebook / Google Data?

Wherever you go online, you leave information behind about yourself. This is referred to as your “digital footprint”.

Consider everything you do when you’re online:
Check into your favourite bar on Facebook.
Post an image of a great dinner at a particular restaurant.
Conduct a Google search for a car.
Fill in an enquiry form.
Visit a website and look at a sneaker product page.

All of these activities leave a “digital trail” of data, that with enough smarts, a good digital marketer can connect the dots on this activity and potentially build an image of you as a person. This “unique” profile may be anonymous; in other words, I may understand that there’s a person who has been undertaking certain activities that lead me to believe that they are buying a car, however I may not know your name, email address or anything specifically about you.

This is known as the difference between anonymous vs attributed data. I may identify one or more groupings of data, and infer that there’s a person wandering around car websites and clicking on car ads, but I may not really know it’s you.

However, the moment you link your Facebook profile or enter your email address, then I can get very specific about you. I will know your name, maybe your age, maybe your address, and I can use a data enrichment program to flesh out more – maybe even take your public posts and other publicly available data to “fill out” your profile.

This is done in order to understand certain things that may allow me a very specific “sell”. For example, if I can see that you have children, I may do better by selling you a 4WD than a two-seater sports car.

How do Facebook and Google know how to target me in this way?

Facebook and Google make money by selling advertising space that is targeted, so I may set up “audiences” within their platforms in order to target you better. Using a pool of advertising content, which I like to call “Content as a service”, I might create hundreds of ads, each of which are slightly different, and each of which might have a slightly different reason to buy the car. For example, three variations on the ad might be:

  1. This car can fit the whole family
  2. This car is fuel efficient
  3. This car is designed and built in Germany

I will deploy those ads on Facebook and Google networks and say to them: Please find me audiences of people who are attracted to that advertising. I may then link certain “marketing automation” elements to optimise further. so if you visited the car website and spent some time on the “fuel efficiency” page, I may communicate that visit so that Facebook and Google know to send you the ad on fuel efficiency.

But Facebook and Google may also know more about you, and are in a far better position to target you than just my assumption based on a website you clicked.

How much do Facebook and Google know about me?

Using these steps, I’ll help you extract all of the data that Facebook and Google know about you – and also the information that apps you’ve installed might know about you.

1. How to access your Google data

Visit: ​​https://myactivity.google.com

If you’ve got a Google account (which many billions of people do), then every Google search, YouTube video you’ve watched, every Google Home voice enquiry and every place you’ve visited is logged and tracked here. Every website you’ve visited from a Google search is there. And if that website has Google Analytics installed (which nearly every website in the world does), then Google will know what you’ve visited, how long you visited for, and what activities you undertook on that site. Further, they know about your location, IP address, device you visited on and plenty more.

2. How to access your Google Maps data

Visit: ​https://www.google.com/maps/timeline

As most people have a smart phone with GPS built in, Google asks for permission to track your location, even if the app isn’t active. In other words, passive tracking of your every move. This link allows you to understand where you’ve been, and allows Google to understand what your movements are, so it might be able to classify you as a “frequent restaurant goer” or “someone who has been visiting car yards” and therefore allow me as an advertiser to target you more effectively.

3. How to access your Google Ad Settings data

Visit: ​https://adssettings.google.com

This list shows “topics you like” and “topics you don’t like”. Googles uses searches, web visits and real life visits to understand your interests as a person. It then puts them into a list that only you can see. Advertisers then buy ads on the Google advertising network and may ask for “Everyone who is interested in buying a car within 20 kms of my car showroom”. This list is aggregated and you get served ads on that basis.

4. How to access your Google apps data

Visit: ​https://myaccount.google.com/permissions

If you use Google to log in to certain apps or websites (called social signon), while you make life easier by not having to remember many different passwords, it does give Google some access to data on the apps and websites you are logged in to. You can see what that access is, and what level of access from this page.

5. How to extract all of your Google data

Visit: ​https://google.com/takeout

Please note – this does not DELETE your data from Google, it only allows you to extract it. However you’ll see there’s a lot there, especially if you use a large number of Google apps and products, from Gmail to YouTube to Google photos.

6. How to track your YouTube search data

After Google itself, YouTube is the second largest search engine in the world (Facebook’s search sucks). If you’d like to see what your entire YouTube search history is, click here: ​https://www.youtube.com/feed/history/search_history

7. How to track your YouTube view data

Here’s everything you’ve ever watched on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/feed/history

8. Here’s all of your Facebook data

There are a couple of levels of Facebook data. There’s what Facebook knows about you, and then there’s the apps that you have allowed to access your Facebook data.

In order to know who you’ve given access to, click this link: ​https://www.facebook.com/settings?tab=applications&section=all
Here you’ll see a huge amount of apps and websites that you may have used to log in (again, Social signon in order to not have to remember multiple email addresses and passwords). Look through these, you may be surprised at how much detail you’ve granted some of these logons, especially the older (pre-2015) apps. These apps often have access to all of your photos, information and friends information. And – you’re the one that allowed them to do it. you can change it or simply remove access.

9. How to access your Facebook ad preferences data

Visit: ​https://www.facebook.com/ads/preferences/?entry_product=ad_settings_screen

Here you’ll see all of the various interests Facebook believes you have, based largely on things you’ve liked, things you’ve posted, ads you’ve clicked, places you’ve visited and sites you’re connected to.

10. How to access all of your Facebook Data

It’s extremely hard to lie to Facebook. While you can always put in a false name or username into Instagram or any other platform for that matter, Facebook is excellent at getting the truth out of you. While websites and platforms of old had “usernames” and crazy handles, Facebook rewards honesty: Your real name, your real birthday, your real data. It punishes you by not putting in your true data by not connecting you to your friends as well, an in-built reward mechnism. Therefore it’s by far the most powerful means to gather data on people.

In order to understand what Facebook knows about you, download your Facebook data via this link: ​https://www.facebook.com/settings?tab=account – then go to “Download a copy of your Facebook data” on the bottom of the text.

The moral to the story

If you don’t want to share your information online, then it’sbest you don’t register for free services. Remember the truism: If the product is free, you’re the product. There is a tradeoff between what you give and what you get; in marketing this is known as a “value exchange”. If you must use Facebook and Google (which in all honesty I must say are superb services), then be aware that information you share with them and through them with other organisations must be something you are happy to share.

These organisations (and most marketers) treat data with respect – after all, it is a privilege to have information on customers. However be aware of what this data is, how this data might be used, and the nature of the value exchange.