As more and more news about Facebook comes out, I’m feeling less and less comfortable with being on Facebook. But life is messy, I have friends and family with whom I want to keep in touch, and I can’t just turn my account off and walk away. (If you can, more power to you. I cannot.)
I can, however, be proactive about getting things out of Facebook. I was most worried about my photos, and I was concerned that downloading files individually or sorting through them after exporting them would difficult and time consuming.
It wasn’t. I now have my photos off Facebook and on another service – and they’re even sort of searchable by keyword. You can do this too.
A Word of Warning
As you may remember, Facebook strips metadata from photos when they’re uploaded. So what you’re going to get when you follow these steps is a bunch of pictures — the photos will not include data about when and where they were taken, the camera used, etc. Facebook also reformats images that are uploaded to its service unless you enable HD photo uploading by default. Don’t be shocked if the photos you get are not super high quality.
With that out of the way, let’s start by downloading your content from Facebook.
Facebook’s Export Tools
On Facebook, go to Settings → Your Facebook Information. The second option on that page will be to download your information.
Click on View beside it and you’ll get a options for how you want to download your data (HTML or JSON? What date range? Should media be in high, medium, or low quantity?) The screenshot I’ve put here shows some of the kinds of things you can download, but that’s only some. The complete list has almost two dozen categories.
I have done a full Facebook information download, but for the purposes of this article I recommend you set your media quality option to high and just download the items in the Photos and Videos section. Why? Because when I requested all my Facebook information, I did it on November 16. I received a note from Facebook data was ready on November 27. That’s 11 days. On the other hand, I requested just my photos and videos and the download was ready less than 12 hours later.
Once Facebook is done aggregating your information, it’ll email you. You’ll find a Zip file ready for download in the “Available Files” section of the Download Your Information Facebook page.
When you click on the Download link, you’ll be prompted for your password before a large ZIP file is dumped in your lap. Note also that the link has an expiration date; if you don’t download it for a few days it’ll vanish and you’ll have to start over.
Once you’ve downloaded and opened it you’ll see it’s pretty simple: a folder and an HTML file.
Once you’ve extracted those items, you can click on the index page and use that to browse the photos. And I encourage you to do that a bit because the images and videos saved this way include information about when you posted them and your friends’ comments. But this format is not useful for saving individual images, moving things around, etc. For that you need to get the images (which are also saved in this download as JPG files).
Moving Things Elsewhere
The one thing I did not want was to end up with yet another pile of JPG files on my computer that would sit there, unreviewed, until the end of time. I had two choices to prevent that: either load the images into a local photo manager (of which Linux has plenty) or upload the images to a cloud management system. I chose the second option and I chose Google Photos to do it.
I chose Google Photos because it’s free, because I use Google a fair amount anyway, and because Google Photos will make these photos easier to organize. More about that later. Anyway, if you have a Google account you’ll find Google Photos at https://photos.google.com/ .
As you can see my Google Photos was not exactly filled to the brim.
There is an Upload link on the upper right of the screen that will let you upload images from folders, in batches. However, my Facebook export file had something like 2000 photos in a number of folders. I did not want to go through all those folders and pull out photos. Google has a tool that means I didn’t have to.
Google Photo Sync
Google has a backup and sync app available at https://photos.google.com/apps . It’s free. Unfortunately it’s available only for Windows and Mac, not Linux. Fortunately I also have a Windows machine because I live in reality.
I moved my Facebook photos to the Windows box and installed Google Photos. Once installed I had to log in to my Google account again:
Google’s app not only backs up and syncs photos but other file types too. Sorry, just want photos.
After that, I had to specify what I wanted to upload (note that you have the option to upload images in high quality or original. I knew I only had about 500MB worth of photos, and I knew that I had 10GB of free space, so I chose original.)
Once you click start, it gets a little confusing. The app sits in the Windows tray and does its thing. You can hear the computer chugging but I had to hunt around in the try to find what Google was doing. Once I found it, though, it was chugging away, telling me what it was downloading and what it was skipping (it was skipping mostly images too small to be cataloged — things like Facebook stickers I had used to react to posts, etc.)
What I Got
Once I was satisfied the program was running correctly, I made dinner, watched a little TV, and came back to find it all finished. Now my Google Photos looked like this:
Yeah, looks about right. And the November 27 date? That’s the day I originally requested the Facebook information download. Like I said in the beginning of the article, Facebook strips the metadata from images. You’re left with just a photo dump, and a bit of a mess.
But it’s a SEARCHABLE mess.
One of the reasons I uploaded to Google Photos is that it’ll try to index your images by keyword. So not only did I have all my Facebook photos backed up online, they were searchable. Sort of. With one search I could prove to you that my grandmother makes beautiful lemon and chocolate pies.
Google Photos can also recognize images you might not expect– like okra mixed up with tomatoes and hoe cakes.
But you can add your own search words. For example, when I search my Google Photos for cats I come up with so many results I’m a little embarrassed about being a stereotype.
The goofy-looking tortie with the bad eye is named Eggo. (Because she don’t leggo.) As I go through these images, I can put Eggo in the descriptor for her pictures. It won’t happen immediately (I’m not clear on how long it takes Google Photos to index my description information) but eventually I can search for Eggo and get just Eggo-pictures.
It took a little time, but now I have all my photos out of Facebook and on the way to being organized. What now?
If I wanted to I could stop here. I have my pictures out of Facebook and backed up on Google. Or I could use Google Photo’s tools (like Assistant) to make collages and videos. I could go through the photos and clean them up using this platform, then export them and give them a home somewhere else. The point is that they’re much more usable than they were in the Facebook export file.
Also, I need to stop taking so many cat pictures.