2021-05-10 One weird trick to get machine-readable data out of any provider

TL;DR: If you live in the EU or are a EU citizen, companies must provide personal data you provided or they collected in a machine-readable format, following the article 20 of the GDPR.

Since losing some documents that I really wish I had not lost, I’ve been a bit obsessive about preserving all personal data in formats that I control.

Apart from the usual backing up, this includes downloading all my mail even if I use the web interface to Gmail day-to-day, backing up WhatsApp data personally (this one is a real pain), and so on.

Recently I wanted to archive my thousands of to-do items. My to-do provider of choice gives a way to export currently active items, but not completed ones.

However, the article 20 of the GDPR (probably my favorite of the bunch), states:

The data subject shall have the right to receive the personal data concerning him or her, which he or she has provided to a controller, in a structured, commonly used and machine-readable format and have the right to transmit those data to another controller without hindrance from the controller to which the personal data have been provided […]

This led to the following email exchange:


I know about your backup feature, but that only exports current tasks. Is there a way to backup all tasks, also completed ones?

Thanks, Francesco

Hi Francesco,

Thank you for your message.

Currently, it is not possible to include completed tasks in a backup file. We will share your feedback with our team for future improvements.🙏

Best regards, <support rep name>

Hi <support rep name>,

I believe that the GDPR requires <to-do company name> to provide me with my data in a machine-readable format – see https://gdpr-info.eu/art-20-gdpr/.

I’m not in a hurry, but please provide a way to export my data.

Thanks, Francesco

Hi Francesco,

Thank you for your message.

We have requested your GDPR file. It should be sent to your registered email address within 60 minutes.

If you have any questions, please let us know.

Best regards, <support rep name>

Lo and behold, a neat JSON dump of all my data appeared in my inbox a few minutes later. The whole affair took maybe 15 minutes on my part.

So, if you live in the EU, or if you are a EU citizen living abroad, know that you should always be always able to get personal data you provided or they collected by invoking the article 20.

f@mazzo.li · twitter