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Facebook is a social networking site whose popularity has exploded in recent years. As of January 2014, there are more than 1.2 billion active users of the site. Facebook hosts untold billions of users' photos, videos, thoughts, conversations, and other content. The total size of Facebook's databases is easily in the hundreds of petabytes.
The judicious user will have a well-designed backup plan for all that content that they retain full control over, but it is a reasonable assumption that the majority of users rely totally on Facebook to safeguard their data. This is a mistake.
It might seem completely unthinkable that a site as massive and as popular as Facebook could ever disappear, taking your data with it. The reality is that websites, even hugely popular ones, can decline in popularity over time and eventually go away, taking your data with them with little or no warning. We've seen it happen.
While Facebook may not be in any immediate danger, you should consider that the data you put on Facebook may be immensely important to you in 10 or 20 years, similar to your family's photo albums. Facebook could be long dead by then. Start planning for this eventuality right now.
Download Your Data From Facebook
Facebook has created a tool to download an incomplete archive of your Facebook account. This includes your own photos and videos, chat conversations, status updates and wall posts. Please bear in mind that the archive is INCOMPLETE. It does NOT include any content you posted on any Facebook group. It does NOT include any comments from your wall posts. It also does NOT include photos and videos belonging to other people even if you are tagged in them.
To create your archive, click the little down arrow next to your name in the upper right area of the page and go to "account settings". You should then see a screen like the one below:
The next screen will explain what's going on. Press "Start my Archive" and you will be presented with a popup telling you that this will take some time - around one hour is not unheard of. Press Start again and Facebook will generate the file for you. This may indeed take several minutes. In the mean time you can continue using Facebook as usual. They will email you when the archive is ready for download.
Your email will contain a link to download your archive. Follow that link and enter your Facebook password to continue. The next page presents you with a download button and an estimate of the archive's size. Download that somewhere convenient for you. This file contains highly personal and potentially sensitive information so keep it safe! You may wish to encrypt it with a password with a free tool like Axcrypt. The easiest way to browse the information is to extract the contents of the zip file, and then open the index.html file with your browser of choice. From there you can look at your profile, your wall posts, photos and videos, and private messages.
Note that as of April, 2012, this download tool seems to have some bugs -- in my tests it failed to completely back up all of my conversations, for example. It's better than nothing but for now at least I don't trust that it is perfect.
Unofficial Backup tools
- friendstogmail exports your contacts to CSV files, ostensibly for import to Gmail. Claims to work only in-browser. Retrieves your friends' birthdays, locations, bios, work history, and hometowns.
- Facedown downloads photo albums from Facebook. Official distribution of the software has stopped.
- Photograbber is an open-source photo album downloader, capable of retrieving ragged photos, albums, tags, comments and likes. It can also download the albums of your friends.
- Give Me My Data (gmmd) a Facebook application that helps users export their data out of Facebook for reuse in visualizations, archives, or any possible method of digital storytelling. Data can be exported in common formats like CSV, XML, and JSON as well as customized network graph formats.
Public pages and groups
While Facebook contains personal profiles and Facebook versions of many blogs/news sites, it also contains blogs that only exist on Facebook. It could be nice to archive these pages, which are the most endangered:
- Facebook is known to have banned totally reasonable pages in the past. They usually come back with a new profile, but the old content is gone.
- Admins could delete pages and groups.
- Pages can be bought and repurposed for commercial/spammy purposes.
- Archival of pages and groups can be difficult (especially for general-purpose archivers), because Facebook is based on a (quite messy) implementation of AJAX. APIs are tightly locked and it is no longer possible to use them for interacting with/reading posts from groups.
We could start archiving the most popular public pages that 1) are not backed by an external website and 2) are not simply used for boring promotional purposes (eg. pages belonging to brands).
TODO: We need to build a list of the most important pages matching the above criteria.
In 2020 it will become possible to export one's own Facebook photos to Google Photos. In December 2019 the feature was made available in Ireland. The move comes after the GDPR requirements for data portability and may be extended beyond EU and to further target services.