What it feels like to download your data from Facebook and Google

Seeing what tech companies know about you reveals an unsettling truth

Colin Horgan
5 min readMar 30, 2018


image via Facebook

“What’s on your mind?”

Since 2009, this is the question that has greeted us on Facebook, prompting a status update. For a long time, the idea (if we even considered it) that Facebook might use the answer to that question — along with all of the other things we posted or liked or shared — to build a comprehensive data profile on each one of us was neither surprising nor scary. After all, curating an identity that would comprise our beliefs and values, our personal networks and influence, and our habits was, in a sense, exactly what we were doing on our Facebook page, and elsewhere online, every day.

If some still maintained this perception of a cooperative agreement between user and platform — whether it’s Facebook or Google or Instagram or whatever — the last two weeks might have shifted it.

In light of the recent focus on Cambridge Analytica’s so-called “psychographic” modeling, which is allegedly based on data from 50 million Facebook users, and which the company claimed it used to help Donald Trump become president in 2016, a lot of people have started to wonder whether they were duped. Whether they had entered into a very lopsided deal with the tech companies. Whether all that information they’d handed over was ultimately worth the payoff: a small space on the platform.

You can witness this shift take place almost in real time on Twitter, as users finally download all the information the platforms have been storing on them all this time and express alarm at the results. “Oh wow my deleted Facebook Zip file contains info on every single cellphone call and text I made for about a year — cool totally not creepy,” Mat Johnson tweeted. Dylan McKay discovered the same. “Downloaded my facebook data as a ZIP file,” he tweeted. “Somehow it has my entire call history with my partner’s mum”.