How to Back Up Your Facebook Data

Published Date
11 - Sep - 2011
| Last Updated
11 - Sep - 2011
How to Back Up Your Facebook Data


Facebook users get shaken up every few weeks with some kind of threat, whether it’s regarding privacy issues from within the social network itself, or outside sources—like the now-rescinded threat from Anonymous to destroy Facebook entirely in November. If your photos, friends’ contact information, and other important data are wrapped up in your Facebook account and nowhere else, it’s not a bad idea to download a copy of all of it (and back up your other data, too) for safe keeping.
The site does permit users to download a Zip file of all their Facebook data, including wall photos, profile pictures, and messages, but I doubt many users have gone through the process, so few know how it actually works—what happens, how long it takes, and what steps are required.
[RELATED_ARTICLE] The company makes it sounds easy enough, but in typical Facebook fashion, it's a lot trickier than you'd think. It took me about 80 minutes, start to finish, although most of that time (an hour) was spent waiting for an email for verification. It also took me two shots before I passed the verification test, and seeing as I am indeed who I say I am, I was rather surprised the test was so hard that I couldn't pass it the first time around. It's not a fool-proof test by any means, as you'll see in this step-by-step walkthrough of the process, complete with screens shots at every stage.

On the one hand, it does seem like Facebook made a good faith effort at security. It makes sense that it should be tough to download all your data from the site that hosts more user-uploaded personal information than perhaps any other. On the other hand, the verification process is very odd, and it wouldn't be hard for someone who's not you to pass it if they did a little poking around online. Before you try to back up your Facebook photos, message history, and information, make sure you know what you're getting into, and set aside enough time to do it. November 5 is sooner than you think.

1. Find the Link
Go to Account (upper right).

Select Account Settings.

Find and click the little link at the bottom that reads "Download a copy of your Facebook data" (why doesn't it appear in bold like the other important items on the page?).

Click Start My Archive.

2. Wait (and Wait) for an Email
Wait for an email letting you know the archive has been created. For me, this step took about an hour (although the Facebook account I used to test didn't have very much in it, so it could take longer for others).

Copyright © 2010 Ziff Davis Publishing Holdings Inc.



Next, you have to verify your identity through a multi-step process. Part 1 makes sense to me, but the second part is awfully strange.

3. Verify, Part 1
Click the link in the email that you received. It will take you to a Facebook page, where you have to re-enter your password. Then the process really gets going...


4. Verify, Part 2
Before you can download your file, Facebook requires that you verify you are who you say you are by identifying five of your friends tagged in photos, which is a lot harder than it sounds if you have friends who tag pictures of dogs, babies, cartoons, as themselves... or if they're wearing a snorkel mask.




For each chance, two photos appear, and you have to figure out who is tagged in them (it's the same person in both images) from a multiple choice list. Take a look at the image above to see what I mean. Even if I know that person, I don't know if I can correctly identify her from those photos. You get two opportunities to skip a set of images if you can't identify the person from a multiple choice list.



5. What Happens if You Fail?
I failed! The fail screen basically says, "Sorry, no dice. Try again some other time or contact support." I went back to my email, clicked the link again, and was able to take another stab at identifying people immediately.


Copyright © 2010 Ziff Davis Publishing Holdings Inc.




What's Actually Included?
The second time around, I passed, so I was then able to download a Zip file with all my information. But what kind of information do you actually get?
My package was split into two main folders: HTML and Photos. The photos folder contained more subfolders: Profile Pictures and Wall Photos. The HTML folder contained ten files: eight HTML files, one CSS file, and one tiny gif of a lock icon.

Making Sense of the Files
The HTML files only contain your information—not the whole Facebook look and feel—so if you're unfamiliar with HTML, be prepared for them to look kind of flat and uninteresting. The CSS file applies some styling to the page, like fonts, but not much, as you can see from the image. But at least all the information you've posted or received is at hand.

You can see in my "messages" HTML file (top) all the messages I've sent and received through both direct messaging and instant messaging (Chat). On the bottom you can see all my wall posts and all my friends’ comments. Notice how every entry has the date and time record included, too.
The photos that download with your files appear to be the original size that you uploaded, although I had very few photos on this account and can only confirm that mine were returned to me at original size.


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