Alternatives to Text Collector

Text Collector is the easiest way to collect your messages, but it does have some limitations. What if have to use something else? Perhaps you have an iPhone, or an older Android phone, or you’re clinging to your antique flip phone.

Ask the phone company

Asking the phone company normally does not work. Unlike in television, actual carriers rarely store messages for much longer than is needed to transmit them. They are unlikely to have copies available, though they may have metadata about who sent messages to whom.

Some carrier-specific messaging apps, however, synchronize with online “cloud storage,” allowing you to access messages from an ordinary browser. There may be limits on how many messages are available this way.

Screenshots

Most “smart” phones today can take screenshots; if you only need one message or a small handful, screenshots are the simplest option. Most phones take screenshots when you press a two-button combination, typically home + power or power + volume.

Can’t take a screenshot? A flatbed scanner works too.

When you take screenshots, be careful to include the date:

Good Bad (date missing)
_images/with-date-showing.png _images/with-date-missing.png

If you can’t capture the date, you may need to paste the screenshot into another document and write the date beside it.

It may also be unclear which messages are yours, depending on how they are arranged, so you might want to add a note indicating which side of the conversation is you.

Backup programs

When you need to collect many messages, screenshots become wildly impractical.

You saved me having to make like 5000 screenshots! And for that I thank you sir.

—A Text Collector user

So, if you need to respond to a discovery request that covers months or years, hopefully you can use Text collector. If you can’t, you can try a backup program. Many backup programs can extract at least some text message data, typically in spreadsheet format.

If you have an iPhone, you can retrieve messages from an iCloud backup. Apple, however, does not provide an official way to do this, so you must find a third-party application.

For other types of phones, there are many and various options. You’ll need to find one that works on your particular device.

Results from backup programs vary widely. Watch for these potential problems:

  • No names associated with phone numbers
  • Emoji not displayed (Text Collector currently shares this problem)
  • Pictures and other attachments are not included
  • If attachments are included, it may be difficult to find which message goes with which attachment
  • Messages not organized in useful conversation order, particularly group messages

Hiring professionals

Hiring a professional forensic examiner, is, by far, the most expensive option, but can be worthwhile if:

  • You don’t have the time to deal with the complexity of backup programs
  • You need someone to testify in court about the integrity of a collection
  • Your phone is very old or obscure, so no backup programs are available
  • You’re looking for deleted data or other evidence that might be hidden

If you need someone to testify in court, be sure your examiner is qualified before hiring.

As with backup programs, professionals usually provide results in spreadsheet format. Sometimes they use specialized and expensive equipment, especially to collect from old phones. Sometimes they just use the same backup programs that you would have used.

Disclaimer

I am not a lawyer, don’t consider this to be legal advice.