How to Delete Facebook Without Losing Everything

For a multitude of reasons, it may be time for you to close the chapter on Facebook. Here’s how to do it without losing the important stuff.

Like most millennials, I created a Facebook account in 2007 to stalk my crush and click through photos of parties I wasn’t invited to. Flash forward a decade and a half later, and a trail of ephemeral moments from high school to adulthood still remained on my Facebook page in the form of photo albums, song lyrics, and messages.

The nature of the platform has changed, as have Facebook’s early adopters, but opting-out isn’t the easiest task.

Deleting a Facebook profile is deceptively challenging: Every photo and status update must be manually deleted; if you’ve had an account for the past 13 years, this can be extremely tedious. It seems easier to wipe the slate clean entirely, but what about all those memories, not to mention the third-party accounts you signed up for using your Facebook login?

Luckily, there is a way to opt out of Facebook without losing the things that matter.

What information does Facebook store?

In short, everything. The social media giant that kick-started our oversharing tendencies has been retaining our information since before we really knew what that meant. Likes, logins, personal information, and messages, are just a sampling of what Facebook knows about its users. We learned from the Cambridge Analytica Scandal in 2018 that Facebook played a role in misappropriating user data (not to mention the platform’s actions that spurred the recent #StopHateForProfit campaign). Suffice it to say, it’s best to bear in mind the potential consequences when sharing your data with Facebook, as well as third-party apps that you may have willingly given access to your account information. You can see some of the information that’s retained by Facebook here, and you can check which third-party apps also have access to your account by checking the Apps Settings page (more on this below).

How to download a copy of your data

The good news is, you can create a local copy of everything you’ve posted on Facebook to reclaim your sense of ownership.

  • First, go to facebook.com/settings.
  • From here, select Your Facebook Information, then Download a Copy of Your Information.
  • You can choose a specific range of time, or All of my Data.
  • You can also specify the quality of images and videos. Choose between HTML or a JSON version. With the JSON format, you can input your data into another application; HTML is easier to read and view.
  • Select which items to download, including photo albums, videos, messages, comments, and any and all interactions you’ve had on Facebook.
  • Choose Create file. After a view minutes, a .zip file will be emailed to you, which you can then download to your desktop.

How to view your archive from the .zip folder

To view the HTML version of your profile, after unzipping your archive folder, click the index.htm icon to open a browser window. On the left hand side you’ll see the various categories of your data, such as “wall,” “events,” and “messages.” Of course it won’t look exactly like your profile (it’ll be text-only), but you’ll be able to easily navigate the page. All of your photos and videos will be stored in a separate folder on the drive where you downloaded your archive.

How to revoke permissions from apps that have access to your data

Signing up for an app with your Facebook login is enticing, but the days of mindlessly signing away your privacy are over. (PS: If you’re doing this because you’re tired of creating new passwords, it’s time for a password manager.)

A few years ago, we may not have been as vigilant about protecting our Facebook data. In fact, it was reported by the New York Times that 270,000 users whose information was obtained during the Cambridge Analytica scandal gave permission for a third-party personality quiz app to access their Facebook data. According to Buzzfeed News, developers request various “data points” from Facebook users, such as your religious beliefs or relationship status, in order to better target consumers. If you’ve already given an app permission to access your data, you can revoke permissions.

  • Go to the Apps Settings page, hover over a particular app, and edit (you can select which type of information the app receives) or remove access altogether.

Unfortunately, your information could already be stored by the developer, but there is a feature that allows you to contact the developer directly to have it deleted.

  • Within the App Settings, click Report App, then, I want to send my own message to the developer, and request that they delete your information.

How to unlink Facebook from third-party accounts

If you’re gearing up to delete your Facebook profile altogether, you may be concerned about losing access to other apps. Every app is different. Instagram, (which is owned by Facebook) allows you to unlink your Facebook account by going into Settings>Account>Linked Accounts>Facebook>Unlink>Confirm.

Spotify, for example, requires you to send the developers a request to manually transfer your information. If you email the support team, they will backup your music, playlists, and followers, and free up your email account so that you can login via email.

Certain apps, like the dating app Bumble, can still be used once you deactivate your account, so long as you don’t log out of Bumble. Once you do, game over. Fortunately, most dating apps allow you to sign up with a phone number (this wasn’t always the case), and many other apps and accounts now give users the option of signing up with just an email address.

When it’s time to say goodbye

Once you’ve downloaded your Facebook data safely onto your hard drive and found ways to log out of third-party apps without losing information, you can delete your Facebook account.

  • Select Settings & Privacy > Settings.
  • Click Your Facebook Information in the left column, then choose Deactivation and Deletion.
  • Select Permanently Delete Account, then click Continue to Account Deletion. Click Delete Account, enter your password, then click Continue.

But, wait! Not so fast. Facebook will allow you to delete your account, but it won’t actually delete anything for at least 30 days (their website says that it may take up to 90 days to permanently delete all of your information). If you log in again within those 30 days, you can select Cancel Deletion, as if nothing happened. And, if you read the fine print, some of your information may be retained in backup storage past the 90 days. Facebook says backup storage is used “to recover in the event of a disaster, software error, or other data loss event.” Your information may also be retained for legal issues, terms violations, or harm prevention efforts. You can read their full data policy here.

It takes sheer will power to let those 30 days pass without a slip-up, but as someone who deleted Facebook nearly two years ago, I can say with authority that it’s possible, and you can do it.

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