Metadata is information stored within a document that is not evident by just looking at the file. It is an electronic “fingerprint” that automatically adds identifying characteristics, such as the creator or author of the file, the name of individuals who have accessed or edited the file, the location from which the file was accessed, and the amount of time spent editing the file. In addition to data that is automatically added to a document, there is user-introduced metadata, such as tracked changes, versions, hidden text and embedded objects.
Every time you create, open or save a Microsoft Word document, hidden information is created and stored within the document that you may not want others outside of your organization to discover. Hidden information can also reside in other Microsoft application files, such as Excel spreadsheets or PowerPoint presentations and includes:
- Your Name and Initials
- Company Name
- Computer Name
- Location of Document on Local or Network Server
- Attached Template
- Hidden Text
- Track Changes
- Non-Visible Portions of OLE Objects
- File Properties and Summary Information
- And more …
Document metadata have proven particularly important in legal environments in which litigation has requested metadata, which can include sensitive information detrimental to a party in court.
The following software tools are available in clinics to help remove metadata from the Microsoft suite of products:
- Microsoft Office Document Inspector (available in all clinics)
- Payne Consulting Metadata Assistant (available in specific clinics, see your clinical instructor for more information)
Not all metadata contains harmful or privileged information. Students should consult with their clinical instructor to determine whether metadata should be removed and which tool should be used.