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eDiscovery of Mobile Data 101

Oct 2, 2019

Mobile data is one of the most rapidly proliferating data sources in the eDiscovery realm and is gaining more significance daily. It presents unique challenges, such as securing authorization to access devices, rapidly evolving encryption features, wildly varying content formatting, device upgrades, and other issues. The methods and tools used to approach mobile data are also actively evolving, as are the standards that will ultimately guide them. Despite these ongoing shifts, companies cannot afford to wait for perfect solutions. They must think about how to collect, preserve, and parse such data before and after it is requested as part of litigation. The first step is to gain a full understanding of the issues raised by mobile data.

Types of mobile data

Mobile devices such as phones and tablets hold a broad array of data types, including text-based messages, call logs, voicemail, email, calendars, bookmarks, attachments (still and moving image files, audio, video, etc.), contacts, browsing history, social media, messaging applications (like Slack and WhatsApp), and even geo-location data.

Add to that, each mobile device may differ in the information it offers and how it retains data, and each type of data has a different format. This makes eDiscovery of this information much more difficult.

Mobile data challenges

The manner in which data is organized on mobile devices poses significant issues for eDiscovery. For example, a typical cell phone collection can generate a relatively high number of metadata fields and types which may need to be created and added to a database. This can take a substantial amount of time to setup, particularly where new or previously unencountered fields are concerned. In addition, mobile devices like iPhones and Android phones (not to mention a plethora of “burner” phones) utilize their own unique operating systems and can store and generate proprietary metadata values for different types of data, such as text messaging and applications like Facebook or WhatsApp. Processing such a wide array of data formats can be especially tricky, given the lack of normalization. This can necessitate significant customization, such as creation of database relational fields, separate views and/or security for each distinct data type, et al.

Production preparation and formatting often present problems as well. Metadata and file formats will likely diverge significantly from more traditional, non-mobile data types. Even basic imaging can present undesirable results, from superfluous characters to forced headers. This begs confirmation with all involved parties of requisite fields and format(s). Moreover, parsing and searching mobile data for production can require workflows that don’t conveniently align with those used for non-mobile data. Hence, it is not unheard of to provide the mobile portion of a data production as an entirely separate volume, which can ironically yield higher efficiency and organization, if later in time.


Both big and small steps alike can make a substantial difference in how effectively mobile data is collected, preserved, and produced. While there isn’t an off-the-shelf tool that can be used to convert and process all mobile data for eDiscovery purposes, a number of proprietary tools and customized applications and solutions do exist. Some examples include:

  • Native production exports with corresponding metadata, which can allow receiving parties to leverage their own preferred methods and tools to meet various formatting and review needs
  • Employing third party software to generate logical, user-friendly PDF images for more unwieldy chat application messages, per client-preferred message grouping
  • Creating customized mobile database views using existing CDS templates or based on client needs on a case-by-case basis
  • Creating and utilizing relational fields for appropriate grouping of mobile document families, strings, and/or threads
  • Force-sorting mobile data when necessary to provide chronological conversation threads
  • Evolving features such as Relativity’s Short Message Viewer and Short Message Format to help streamline many common mobile data processing, viewing, and production challenges

This is not a complete list. The best approach is to consult with an experienced eDiscovery service provider who has developed custom applications, can advise regarding potential workflow options, and stays abreast of the latest developments and trends.

CDS provides a full-range of Advisory Services, including assistance with mobile data. Contact us for a consultation.

About the Author

Devon Crosbie, Esq

Devon Crosbie, Esq

Devon Crosbie is a UNC School of Law graduate and Relativity Master who began his career as a licensed attorney and eDiscovery/litigation support professional in 2007. Since then, he has been strategically leveraging a broad array of tools – while coordinating all aspects of the EDRM process, from data retention, collection, privacy, and security, through production and presentation – to help clients and internal teams alike produce defensible, effective workflows and results.