Home » Blogs » The Problem with Mobile Data Collections: Not All Messages Are The Same
June 27, 2024

The Problem with Mobile Data Collections: Not All Messages Are The Same

Over the past several years, there’s been an exponential rise in mobile device messaging platforms. Consider all the ways people can now communicate on their phones – email, text messaging, social media messaging apps, and even game app chats.

According to GSMA, by the end of 2023, 5.6 billion people (69% of the global population) subscribed to a mobile service. When the need arises for data collection, that’s a lot of people on a lot of platforms with different regulatory requirements, security thresholds, and privacy laws to consider.

It’s critical to consider the platforms’ varied functionalities, user behaviors, and implications for data strategies. That’s what ModeOne bears in mind when undertaking data collection for clients with its targeted, remote mobile data collection solution.


Differences of Mobile Messaging Platforms

In terms of popularity, the top three smartphone messaging apps are texting related: SMS, WhatsApp, and Signal. Next comes social media apps, followed by email (personal or corporate).

The biggest difference between email and messaging apps is the ease of use. Many smartphone users gravitate toward texting or short form messaging apps as the more relaxed form of communication. Immediacy and casualness have found texting overtaking email, especially among newer generations, who often view email as more formal and slower, associated with work and longer-term responsibilities.

These apps also comprise a constantly emerging list of messaging platforms with varying levels of encryption and security measures. Unencrypted SMS messages are the most unsecure, able to be seen by your cellular provider. At the mid-level of security are text messages and iMessages. WhatsApp is notably more secure, with end-to-end encryption, and Signal is the most secure – impenetrable as Fort Knox, reporters use it to retain anonymity for at-risk sources.


The Pitfalls of Treating All Messages Alike

Defensible smartphone data collection has detailed requirements that are variable depending on the mobile device brand, the messaging application, and encryption protocols – which means you can’t treat all messaging apps alike. There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to collecting mobile data, which is why so many practitioners are required to maintain several tools at their disposal.

Because it’s designed to make smartphone data collection easier, more efficient, and more cost-effective, ModeOne needs to be part of your toolkit.  It enables a more targeted approach to data collection with its targeted, remote solution: it negates the need for a physical collection kit or in-person forensics specialist, and provides same-day service.


Challenges of Collecting Smartphone Data:

  • Different file formats. App data comes in all different file formats that must be processed separately to align metadata so everything can be analyzed in a consistent format. ModeOne addresses these issues by carefully architecting its messaging review interface to provide a familiar and uniform way to review, analyze, and assess short message communications on smartphone devices.


  • Data retention and disappearing messages. All apps have differing built-in data retention policies that cover how long messages stay on the phone, whether they’re accessible, or what happens with older or deleted texts. Apps with disappearing messages, like Signal or Confide, are more difficult to address. After all, they’re built to evade monitoring. While the data itself can’t be collected, solutions such as ModeOne can monitor and flag whether such an app is installed on a smartphone and if that violates a corporation’s policies.


  • Emojis. Emojis also present challenges depending upon the app or phone they exist in. For example, what looks like a squirt gun on one phone can look like a real gun in another. That, of course, can drastically alter the context of a message. It’s difficult from a collections standpoint, but ModeOne tackles that with access to an international emoji database — it ensures it’s pulling the proper emoji for a given phone, software update, or app.


  • Storage Space. If data were pulled from a thousand phones, there would be major costs for IT infrastructure, up to a full terabyte of data. Because ModeOne doesn’t collect all the phone’s data — just messaging data usually around 50 GB— it saves on storage space and, ultimately cost, taking the pressure off of larger corporate organizations.


How ModeOne Simplifies Mobile Data Collections

Despite all the different messaging apps, ModeOne makes the collection process easy for every user, customizing it to their needs from the beginning so only the necessary information is collected. After all, custodians are not criminals and should not be treated as such by having their entire phone imaged and their data seized. ModeOne allows users to customize their workflow to determine what data is collected and when it’s collected, upholding the custodians’ data privacy and propriety while mitigating the legal risks. It is also convenient, allowing a custodian to continue to use her/his phone during the collection process.

Until now, the typical mobile collection workflow involved capturing everything from a phone. That traditional practice, however, has several issues: it costs over $4,000 to collect and process data from a mobile phone; takes up to a week and a half to receive the data; requires physically shipping a collection kit and/or deploying an onsite forensics specialist; and ultimately, it simply isn’t necessary to collect every last piece of data from a custodian’s phone.

ModeOne solves the biggest problems in the collection process. It dramatically improves the “speed to facts” for attorney clients, collects targeted data while avoiding private data outside the scope of litigation, removes the necessity for in-person intervention, and reduces the cost of the process to at least 50% below the previously standard price.