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A Guide to Metadata

The Guardian define metadata as “information generated as you use technology”, which sums it up pretty nicely. It is essentially data about data. The type of data being collected is transactional information about the users involved, the device and the activates carried out.

Metadata is collected without you realising. When sending an email metadata can include the date and time, the sender and receiver’s name, email and IP address and the subject of the email. All of this is pretty obvious, however, as it is displayed to you and the person receiving the email. Metadata on your camera (including your phone) can include what time the photo was taken, where it was taken and what model the camera is. Metadata on your phone can be the duration of the location, the location of the participant and the time of the call.

Most of the time it isn’t necessary to worry about metadata. It actually has a lot of useful benefits. For example, when you put a CD in your computer it will usually show you the artist, track names, album artwork and much more. This is all thanks to metadata.

However, there might be times when you want to remove metadata. Your camera (or phone) should offer settings that allow you turn off specific metadata features, like location tracking. This is perhaps a security concern for those who upload their photos online, since it will allow someone to discover where you were when you took that photo.

Microsoft Office will also save metadata in your documents, like how long they’ve been open, the users who’ve edited the document and sometimes previous versions. Publishing these documents online with all this metadata attached isn’t usually advisable; many would see this as a breach of privacy and want to limit the availability of this data.

Let’s go through on how to inspect what metadata is being tracked and how to remove it. On Office (2010 or 2013 edition), click ‘File’, then ‘Info’ and then you should see ‘Inspect Document’. From here you can do just that. Click ‘Check for Issues’ and then ‘Inspect Document’ and then you can select what type of metadata you want to see. Then click ‘Inspect’ and you’ll be able to see all metadata that has been tracked. From here you can choose to ‘Remove All’ next to the type of data to remove it from that document.

Bear in mind that you won’t be able to recover metadata once it has been removed. If you do want to keep it, you can create a new copy of the document (via ‘Save As’) and then remove the metadata. That way you’ll have one for your own copy and one that can be safely published.

There are loads of different types of metadata, so detailing how to remove them all here is unfeasible. However, you probably shouldn’t worry too much about it. Often it can be helpful for you when sorting through your data, but just consider removing it if you’re publishing things online.


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