Did you know that many files contain hidden information that may include personal data? The hidden information is called “metadata” and it may reveal more about you than you realize. Here is what metadata is and how to edit or remove it.
In addition to the actual content of a file, there is information about the contents of the file – data about the data. This type of information is called metadata. Some of it, such as file size and date of creation, is familiar but there is much else that may be stored as metadata. For example, photographers are probably familiar with the fact that an image file can have information such as the name of the photographer, when and where a picture was taken, and details of the camera used. Some kinds of metadata are hidden and you have to look for it to see it. Here are some ways to find metadata.
Viewing and editing metadata from Windows (File) Explorer
Some, but not all metadata can be edited using Explorer. Right-click a file, choose “Properties” in the context menu, and click the “Details” tab. A window with various kinds of metadata will open. The type of metadata will depend on the file type and what version of Windows you have. Some of the metadata may be editable and can be deleted if you choose. For Windows 7 and 8.x, the Properties-Details window has a link at the bottom, “Remove Properties and Personal Information”. Click this link and a dialog box will open where you can choose any personal information to delete. For many file types, of course, there may be nothing that is editable. The procedure is described at this Microsoft Technet article.
In Windows XP, it is possible to add a tag or comments to any file’s metadata. See this article for some details. Starting with Vista, Microsoft limited the availability of editable metadata to certain types of files such as images, music, and Microsoft Office files.
Metadata in Microsoft Office documents and spreadsheets
Office files are of particular interest since they can contain considerable amounts of personal information. Your name, your company, name of your computer, your collaborators, revisions, and much else may be included. Much of this is buried in the file and you may not be aware of it.
Various versions of Office have a “Document Inspector” that allows removal of personal data from Office documents and spreadsheets. The path depends somewhat on which version you have but, in Office 2010/2013, Document Inspector is opened from: File->Info->Check for Issues->Inspect Document. When the Document Inspector dialog opens, follow the instructions on how to delete personal data. You can also check out the detailed discussion of removing personal data in Office documents that is given at this Microsoft page.
Metadata in PDF files
PDF files can contain metadata that is not discoverable by using Windows Explorer. Instead, a PDF reader is required. Adobe Reader allows you to view and edit certain metadata such as the author’s name. Other PDF readers will have a way to view metadata but may or may not provide for editing or deleting it. For example, Sumatra only allows you to view metadata. The general procedure in PDF readers for revealing metadata is to open the menu File-Properties. Editing PDF metadata with Adobe Reader is described at this link.
And there you have it – how to keep your files from revealing more than you want.
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