Facebook’s “Download My Archive” feature is incomplete and unusable. We have a right to our data.
Facebook has a lot of our data. The time you and your friend got into that huge political debate. The hilarious conversations from your high school chat groups. The moment you realized you were in love with your future husband.
As users of the platform, we have a right to our data. And from the outset, Facebook appears to comply. Facebook has a feature called “Download My Archive” which you can access by going to Settings -> “Download a copy of my Facebook data.” This is what the feature looks like:
But, there’s a problem.
Facebook isn’t actually giving you all the message data.
Download Your *Incomplete* Archive
After some exploration, Dillon Dixon and I have uncovered that a substantial subset of chat threads are reliably gone from these downloads — not just strangers, but some of my closest friends’ chat threads. Not only is the file incomplete, but it’s also practically unusable by the average person due to duplication errors.
This is a mysterious issue on Facebook’s end. From anecdotal evidence, it seems that what gets returned in your chat archive is generally conversations with people who you have most recently talked to. Fortunately, it always seems to be the complete history for each conversation and nothing gets truncated. — From Dillon’s FB Archive Parser Repo
You may wonder if this is a new issue that Facebook isn’t aware of. Sadly, this issue has been surfaced to Facebook several years ago, and I’ve reported the issue myself without any answer:
User trust and transparency are important, especially when it comes to personal, intimate data. This bug means that users over the past few years have been downloading their Facebook Archive falsely believing that it’s complete.
Some product recommendations to Facebook:
- Put a disclaimer on the archive page noting the issue, immediately.
- The messages.htm file is often 100MB+, out of order, and contains duplication errors. There’s a lot of cleanup work to be done here to make it readable to an average user.
- Once resolved, alert users who have used this feature to re-access their bug-free archive.
- But most importantly, please let us know that you’re aware of the issue and will address it ASAP. I’ll happily update this article if you DM me at @stervyc on Twitter.
Dear reader — please support me in escalating this message to Facebook:
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Please let me know if you have any other ideas on how to escalate this issue, and I’d love to join forces to get this issue resolved ASAP.