WhatsApp has served me well as a communications medium for my family, but I was never thrilled with its ownership by Facebook, and the recently announced privacy changes made it necessary for me to move on.
Here’s how to do it:
Move to Signal
The first step is moving yourself and your contacts to a replacement messaging service. The security experts who know more than I do recommend Signal so I installed the smart phone app and the desktop app. I then convinced my key contacts to do the same.
It took a little while to get all of my contacts onto Signal so I was using both WhatsApp and Signal for a little while. In order to make sure that I defaulted to using Signal I moved WhatsApp to the second screen on my phone, putting Signal where it used to be, and closed the WhatsApp Web tabs on my computers. Eventually I removed WhatsApp from the second screen to make it particularly inconvenient to use.
Backup WhatsApp data
After several years of WhatsApp usage I had a lot of messages accumulated and I didn’t want to lose that history. I found various guides giving complicated instructions for decrypting and parsing databases, but ultimately I found a much easier two-step way (tested on Android):
1) You need to export the text of your conversations from each group or personal chat. You do this by going to the chat, tapping on the three-dot menu, tapping More, and then tapping Export chat. It will ask whether want to export with or without media and you should select Without Media. The reason is that the total size of the export is limited to 1 MB and including media means you might only get a few weeks of history. With media excluded I was able to export 3.5 years of our family chat. You can export the media separately. Again, repeat this for every chat that you care about. You can export to various locations but I used Google Drive. Each chat will be a text file with a line for each message sent. Our family chat room had over 14,000 messages.
2) Once you have exported all of your chat text you probably want to get your media. We shared a lot of photos on WhatsApp and I didn’t want to lose those. To get these I plugged in my phone with a USB-C cable to my laptop. I then swiped down from the top to look at notifications and tapped where it said Android System – Charging this device via USB, and then tapped again for more options. This gave me the option to tap File transfer and when I did that the Internal shared storage of my phone appeared. I opened that folder and then opened the WhatsApp folder and then the Media folder within that. It looks like the Media folders contains all of the photos and videos that you have ever sent, from all chats. If you copy this to your computer then you are all set.
I was originally worried about losing all of the chat history and media, but once I backed it up I found that in some ways it became more accessible. Each chat is a text file and I can search them quickly and easily, without having to painstakingly scroll backwards. Similarly with the media I can scroll through the pictures very quickly. I’ve enjoyed rereading some of the old messages, and rewatching a linked video of my nephew making me a martini. No regrets.
Once you are satisfied that you are done with WhatsApp you need to delete your account in order to (one hopes) remove all record of your connections. In the WhatsApp app tap the three-dot menu, tap Settings, tap Account, and then tap Delete my account.
Once you’ve done that you can delete WhatsApp and never look back.
Twitter announcement of this post is here.