For the past year I have been working on a project called Data Selfie, an installation (22-8miles.com/data-selfie/) and a Chrome Extension (dataselfie.it) that provide a personal perspective on data mining, predictive analytics and our online data identity through Facebook. I created this to track myself on Facebook and (later in collaboration with Regina Flores Mir) to enable other users to track themselves on the platform. That data can then be analysed and predictions can be made. For the Web Residency with Akademie Schloss Solitude and ZKM I proposed an expansion and in a way another attempt in researching the ever emerging question of »What does Facebook know about me?«
Facebook users are able to download a copy of their historical data. One can scroll through all the raw information. And although I am skeptical that this actually contains everything, I believe it is a foundation for analysis – an aggregated view on all locations I logged into Facebook, from where I uploaded my photos, what photos I post, what topics I discuss in my private messages, when I gained the most friends and more. To go even further one could infer a personality profile based on this data. The main goal is to show the potential of this data paired with algorithms and provoke thinking and discussions about the real life impact. It’s a call for us all to have a relationship with our data selves, the data profiles especially companies have created of us and how these might give insights to our lives and identities we are not considering – or in most cases not enough.
At the moment I imagine the project result to be a website that assists users with gaining access to this new view of their Facebook data (no user data shall be stored!) that I am developing in this web residency.
First step: download your Facebook data!
Now what is the first step? Download your Facebook data! Go to facebook.com/settings and click »Download a copy of your Facebook data.« You should get a link to download your zip file within a few minutes. Unzip. Open the index.htm file in the browser of your choice. Be ready to get lost in past posts, events and conversations, and to be even surprised by some data points.
I for one did not expect to see more than 20 »Advertisers with your contact info« that I have never heard of before. There is a list of removed friends and deleted friend requests and of course all my friends with the date we connected (I am sure you will also realize you do not recognize some names in that list). Fun detail you get to know your »Friend Peer Group«, mine is »Starting Adult Life«. Furthermore, IP addresses are recorded every time I log in (in part with inferred estimated locations) and every time there I upload a photo.
It all comes down to: what do they track and what can be deduced from that. For example with the login time and location, Facebook can easily determine the city I live in, if and where I travel, how often and for how long, but also potentially when I wake up or go to bed, depending on the patterns of my everyday life. My data goes as far back as 2011, so I am genuinely interested what one could learn about me by looking at just my location data (through IP addresses)!