Facebook, can I please at least have my data back?

Exactly 7 days ago, https://fb.com/namanyayg led to a profile filled with at least 8 years of discussions on technology, inside jokes with friends, and photos of travel and family. Now, it’s like nothing ever existed there.

I’ve been a long-time user and advocate for Facebook and other social media sites. I used to chuckle at the “paranoia” and mistrust people on Reddit and HN had with Facebook, thinking that the growing censorship would never affect me. I never did anything on the wrong side of the law, after all. That changed when I was perma-banned, with all trace of my account ever existing removed, as did two of my friends.

What I suspect might’ve been the reason for the ban: a small page for my friends about a TV series that we follow. As a learning experiment with PhantomJS, I’d written a script to automate some of the posting times. Posts on the page barely had a few likes, and I earned a total of $0 from the page. Why I suspect the page? My two friends who were also banned also managed the page with me. They never used the PhantomJS script.  I now know that automation is strictly against Facebook’s ToS, and I wish I could tell this to the naive me of my past.

The creepy thing is that: Facebook still has all of our data. Acting against the ToS, one of my friends tried to create a new account using an older email that he hadn’t used. He added no photos and only a few friends. Minutes later, his “recommended friends” started showing up people from our old circle of friends. The next day, he woke up to have the 2nd account banned as well.

I am sure I’ll see similar results if I try this as well (I don’t plan to). Facebook owns and exercises all of the data it had on me, including that on the relationship between me and my friends, and even has all face recognition saved (photos that I’ve been tagged in still show up with my name). Facebook will use it for it’s own purposes, but will not let me have even a glimpse of it.

Fortunately, I’ve got some saved from random screenshots on my phone.

Discussions about a photoshoot with my group of international students

 

First discussion with an investor!

 

A friend hosted a hackathon and I found myself in the “mentor” group

 

A new friend I made in one of the esoteric pun groups I’m involved in 🙂 Slightly ironic now?

This post is a warning for all like-minded developers, and a harsh reminder for myself. By putting your data on Facebook (and all other social media), you resign all ownership of it. It is up to the decision of Facebook’s algorithm (or employee?) for what counts as “acceptable” or “not acceptable” on the platform.

While I don’t think it’s possible for everyone to completely quit Facebook, the least you should do is make a backup of all the memories you’ve made there. Fortunately, for people with active accounts, it’s quite easy to do: Facebook has an official guide on their help center.

Along with that, start publishing your thoughts on places where you completely own it. I’ve always believed that every programmer should have a “programming blog,” where you write about new things that you learnt or difficult challenges that you solved. Try to host it on your own server (I use a $5 DigitalOcean droplet) rather than Medium. Use newsletters and mailing lists for communication. Self-publishing via LeanPub is a good idea for many writers. If your primary channel of interaction with your audience depends on a social networking site, maybe it’s time to change things slightly. I’ll personally start writing more articles for my blog.

I misunderstood Facebook’s stance, and I paid a heavy price. All I wish for is to have some of those memories back.

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