Is Facebook really preventing critics from downloading their account data?

Filed Under: Facebook, Privacy, Social networks

FacebookFacebook's data archive download tool seems to be having a difficult time saying goodbye.

Naked Security reader John Alarcon, who describes himself as a "very vocal" critic of Facebook and the company's "use/misuse/overuse of our data and browsing habit[s]," has been trying for weeks - quite fruitlessly - to extract his information from Facebook.

In the fall, Facebook not only cut back on the data it releases to users. It also turned to a do-it-yourself model, creating an email address ( for people to send their data requests to.

An autoreply from that account directed users to an archive download tool.

This method has failed for Alarcon. Instead of his data archive, he consistently gets an email telling him to try again.

Please retry your download

Alarcon has found that this results in an endless loop and a growing file of "failed" email responses.

Failure emails from Facebook

He turned next to another form provided by Facebook - one that required him to send a copy of his driver's license to get at his data.

Facebook requests government ID

This eventually got a response from Facebook: an email containing the standard language already available on the help section of the site, instructing him to use the download tool to download his data - the same tool he had tried, unsuccessfully, to use for weeks.

It gets worse. Facebook appears to be preventing him from submitting bugs on the issue. From his account, this doesn't appear to be related to user error:

...with every bug report, you get an auto-response indicating that it was submitted. I'm no longer getting any auto-response when I submit bugs. It's not an end-user mistake in submitting the error; I've submitted many bugs and always get an auto-response, if not a direct email contact. It's also not an email lag, as my server is continuing to send and receive email from that account.

Mr. Alarcon is concerned that his inability to extract himself from Facebook might represent an attempt by the social media giant to "get back at him," given that he's an outspoken critic:

I strongly suspect Facebook has crippled my account due to my outspoken criticism. It is no secret that I intend to leave Facebook as soon as I have a copy of my data (I status'd this intent publicly) and it's sure feeling like a strange coincidence that they won't even accept a basic bug report from my account now after I've tried numerous times to use a basic feature that's seeming still working for others.

Alarcon's criticisms have been published on his profile status updates, responses to questions and discussions in his Facebook inbox, comments left on Sophos's articles posted to Facebook, comments left on friends' posts that were related to security or new features on Facebook, and various other places around the internet.

Facebook profile

Alarcorn has removed much of his Facebook criticism, mostly due to the overwhelming number of replies/arguments he was receiving from his network. A few related posts are still on his wall.

Is Facebook acting vindictively against a critic? I doubt it. It doesn't make sense to ensnare critics by making it impossible for them to extract their data so they can shut down their accounts.

The glitchiness of data extraction makes more sense from the perspective of Facebook's financial self-interest, which lies in gluing itself to users.

After all, what's more valuable for the IPO-bound Facebook than a burgeoning user base that finds it exhausting to unstick itself? It simply doesn't make sense to create a tool that lets users easily slide off the site.

I wrote to Facebook about John Alarcon and Facebook's klunky data extraction tool. I was told they'd get back to me. That was on February 28.

I'm still waiting.

If you've got a Facebook data extraction story - was it easy? Or are you still glued in? - please share it as a comment on this article.

I'm also curious to learn whether people are finding it easy or difficult to extract their data from Google under its new guidelines. Is it a Facebook-sized headache or relatively painless?

Update: John Alarcon has been in touch with Naked Security to tell us that he has received a "succinct apology by email from the Facebook team" and is now able to download his data.

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22 Responses to Is Facebook really preventing critics from downloading their account data?

  1. Slade37 · 1309 days ago

    I had no trouble getting my data on Feb 29.

  2. tim peterson · 1309 days ago

    let them have your data, deleting your account is more important,

  3. Neil · 1308 days ago

    My data was all lies, I hope it messed up their statistics.

  4. S Burton · 1308 days ago

    I have been having the same issue. I sent the request, get a response that the data is ready to download. I go to download it, only to have the process start all over again. And I am not a critic of facebook by any means. I just wanted my data.

    • Jdrlabor · 1307 days ago

      As one other reader reports, Facebook confirms that data is downloading and will be emailed and then disappears like a mole that has completed its day's work. The promised email with data attachment never comes. So perhaps instead they are just forwarding it on to the next round of prospective advertisers.

  5. Paul · 1308 days ago

    I don't really have a problem with Facebook (well, I do, but still manageable for now) but I do have a problem with the website
    I tried to delete my account there but they have no option for it. I contacted an admin and all he could do was close my account but not delete my data. After mentioning this was not acceptable and that he should forward my request to someone who could there was a complete radio silence.

    On their website they mention that I should contact another company about the removal of my data ( but noone even bothered to reply to that request.

    Any suggestions on what action to take next?

  6. bobby d · 1308 days ago

    i did my data extraction a few days ago, and it was ready for me in less than a couple of hours, and i downloaded it with no problems. BUT.....a couple of months ago when i had decided to delete my entire profile, it took me DAYS to get it done, and all i managed to do was get my profile dormant, NOT a month later, all i had to do was log back in, and my entire profile was back up like nothing had happened. It's pretty frustrating that you can't easily delete your profile if you want to......

    • gene jacobson · 1307 days ago

      Had exactly the same experience. Though I've heard now that they say it will be deleted in a couple weeks. I don't use it enough to care but it is annoying to "belong" to something harder to shake than the flu bug.

  7. Sharp · 1308 days ago

    I seem to have the same issue as Alacorn, but we are technically in the same boat. I write bad about facebook, post up links to security conerns, tip and tricks to get around facebook security, and randomly stupid things MZ has done that I see in the news.

    They will also not allow me to extract my data. Personally I think that when a user deletes their facebook account all this information should be wipped clean, and eventually back ups would be refreshed to also remove the rest of the data.

    I think the only real way to get facebook to address this issue is by spamming them with account creations, until they decide to address the issue. When they have 10,000 AAA accounts 10,000 BBB accounts etc they will eventually need a real tool to clean these up and delete all data.

  8. As the subject of this article, I'm eternally grateful for this piece; thanks so much for writing it up!

    I wasn't going to comment, but I wanted to clarify something "Sharp" said regarding spamming Facebook with account creations.

    They now are requiring a phone number to validate accounts; not only does this give them your phone number (which I didn't want to do,) but it limits the accounts you can create to the number of different phone numbers you can use.

    All the same, as far as the retrieval of my data is concerned, I'm not giving up.

  9. Viks021 · 1286 days ago

    How can you be sure that your data is really deleted, not just tagged as "deleted"?

  10. mbon · 1237 days ago

    been trying for months and they will not even send me an email. No filters on or anything. cannot even get a fake account using my name and info deleted though they sent an email saying they were investigating. FB is a big waste of time. I can live without my pictures but would have been nice to have some of the older pictures they also locked me out of albums I created on Iphoto. Screw Facebook.

  11. 69starchild · 1205 days ago

    I've been trying to download my data, since last nov 2011 and have tried 3 times have never received the link. I did however download over a year ago and was sent a link...wondering what is wrong now?

  12. I also have tried on numerous occasions to retrieve my data and still not able to get it and I have a link that facebook don't tell you about how to permamently delete your facebook I will post the link here

    hope this helps



  13. meeeeo · 994 days ago

    Ive tried a year ago.. send off my ID etc,and no joy.. in the last month or 2 ive tried to download it 5 or 6 time, and never recieve the promised email.. I can be quiet vocal about facebook.. ihear they have a 3 month time limit by data laws (in europe) is that correct? Could I sue them? what kind of evidence could i save to show i have requested data ( i always keep dates and times)

  14. Civa B. · 972 days ago

    I'm just trying to download my data as the first step directed in the process to convert a personal page to a professional page and am having ZERO luck with the download. Been three days now. Very frustrating.

  15. jbonsteel · 948 days ago

    I've been trying for a few months. Always get the "failed - try again" message. Never had trouble in the past.

  16. Audrey · 932 days ago

    I've been having trouble for the last weeks, every time I get the error email. I can't believe Facebook is failing on giving me back my personal information, it stinks.

  17. Dingo · 928 days ago

    I have never criticized Facebook in any way except for the common "your new Timeline sucks" and I'm not able to download my data repeatedly for over a month. I was able to do that before. I'm not taking my data and deleting anything out, I just want a copy of them, because the search option is still virtually nonexistent on Facebook. I think it has nothing much to do with criticism, it's just plain broken.

  18. Rich · 908 days ago

    Have been trying for ages to download. It simply states failed, no reason etc and you cannot regenerate the archive once its already been done so you're stuck, or more to point your infomation is. You CANNOT., WILL NOT, most DEFINITELY NOT have your data back!

    Funny how every data capture tool works and yet the basic fundamentals of when a user wants data out they cannot get it or report a fault with it etc etc.
    It is not pure paranoia, its a numbers game and they know they will survive and prosper due to the millions of 'plebs' whom cannot be bothered with privacy and just wanna tell us all what their dog is doing to its privates. They have no life and don't care if Fb sucks it from them to pass onto advertisers etc. Meanwhile the rest suffer so I for one will probably be leaving very soon.

  19. It'sonly me · 835 days ago

    You can download your data but there's no photos videos or posts in the zip file just a load of uselss account stuff

  20. Osho Sukhmani · 832 days ago

    I have had numerous problems from facebook exposing my phone numbers to stalkers as well as its locking me out of my account claiming I was a fake. I had just joined a criticism of facebook type of group on facebook and even had read a comment by someone claiming that FB was actually purposely deleting deactivating or locking out critics. Very soon after I posted a comment there I was next locked out. One of my friends did this after about a month or two and she also was locked out the moment whe updated an anti-FB status. Infact right the moment she posted the status. FB is definitely treating us like little pigs raised for pork

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About the author

I've been writing about technology, careers, science and health since 1995. I rose to the lofty heights of Executive Editor for eWEEK, popped out with the 2008 crash, joined the freelancer economy, and am still writing for my beloved peeps at places like Sophos's Naked Security, CIO Mag, ComputerWorld, PC Mag, IT Expert Voice, Software Quality Connection, Time, and the US and British editions of HP's Input/Output. I respond to cash and spicy sites, so don't be shy.