How To Get Your Mobile Data

A quick announcment before I jump in: I just launched Pathways, the output of my 2014-15 Fulbright-National Geographic Digital Storytelling Fellowship. It’s a site that shows the stories derived from collecting a month’s worth of mobile data from Londoners. I did the design, UX, and development for the whole thing, as well as the research, data collection and data analysis, so it’s quite exciting to have it finally live. Check it out here.

In conjunction with Pathways, below is a guide on how you can get the same locative, social media, and metadata that I collected from my participants. Quick note: this isn’t a guide for developers, programmers, or people who identify as very technical. If you fit in that crowd, then you’ll immediately realize that there are many more efficient ways of doing these things. Because the goal of Pathways is to be relevant to people who don’t have any passion or interest in data, this guide is meant to provide easy, not-very-technical hacks for getting your own data.


The main work I did with Pathways was in collecting location data. To be honest, there aren’t great options right now. I asked my participants to install OpenPaths, an open source mobile app that allows you to securely access your location information. OpenPaths is the best option you have in terms of security, but it’s not the most accurate and isn’t being actively developed anymore, which makes me reticent to really recommend it.

On the other hand, I’m not any more excited about the other options. Moves is the best option in terms of level of sophistication around tracking, but I can’t mention Moves without needing to say in the same breath that it’s owned by one of our favorite not-historically-great-with-privacy corporations, Facebook.

So you’ve got to choose what’s more important to you—security or effectiveness? An ugly choice, I know.


You can easily send yourself WhatsApp data from within the app itself. Click over on the chats tab, and then click the following: WhatsApp —> Menu button —> Settings —> Chat Settings —> Backup conversations —> email conversation without media


Open up Skype (on your computer). Choose a conversation. Right click, and you should see the option to “jump back”. Jump back all the way to the beginning, then hit Command + A (or Ctrl + A on a PC) to highlight all of your messages, then Command + C (Ctrl + C) to copy all the messages. Open up a text file and paste.


Really similar to WhatsApp. First go to Messages, then open Viber. Click the following sequence: [messages] —> open Viber —> more option … —> Settings —> calls and messages —> email message history


Google provides a service called Google Takeout where you can easily export your data. On the “Download Your Data” page, you’ll want to choose only “Hangouts”, otherwise it’s going to take hours to get all of your different types of Google Data. I suggest choosing a .zip format as it’ll be easy for you to extract. Google will alert you once your files are ready to download.

Once you get them, you can use this lovely great and free resource provided by Jay, a system administrator who is making your life easier. Just follow the instructions on this site:


Facebook is notorious for eating all of your data and then not providing that data in a really easy format. Getting your data, though, is easy enough:

  1. Go to top right of any Facebook page and select Settings
  2. Click "Download a copy of your Facebook data" below your General Account Settings
  3. Click Start My Archive

Other Options

Those are all pretty simple ways of doing things. They’ll give you access to some of your messages, and you can save everything into a text file. A slightly more technical option if you have an iPhone is to download a program like iPhone Backup Extractor or iBackupViewer; those will give you access to the actual databases that your messages for this apps are saved in locally on your phone.

If you have an Android phone, there are equivalent programs like Android File Transfer, which I believe that you can use even if you haven’t rooted your phone (if you don’t know what that means, don’t worry—it means you haven’t done it).