Everything you do generates data somewhere. This data, when collected and analyzed, becomes information. This information can tell someone more about you than you probably want them to know.
Information gathered over time can tell someone everything about you and can be used to help or hurt you. This data is known as metadata.
What is metadata?
Metadata is data about data. Don’t you hate when people use a word to define that word? Data are facts that are completely objective. This cannot be reasonably challenged. One is equal to one and zero is equal to zero. The temperature is that Today’s date is today’s date. Did you understand.
Metadata is facts about one piece of data. Let us illustrate this with the example of writing a letter in Microsoft Word.
You are typing a letter to be sent to the authorities about what is happening at work, which is unethical, perhaps even illegal. Yes, it immediately turned out dramatically.
A letter is information made up of characters that you enter in a specific order. The characters you enter are generated by a set of ones and zeros. Ones and zeros are the data that make up the information in the letter.
When ones and zeros turn into a letter, other letter data is generated. Some of this metadata includes when you typed the email, who typed the email, when it was last saved, which version of Word it was created in, all of this data or metadata.
What does metadata do?
In Microsoft Office, most of the metadata is for your convenience only. This can help you find the most recent version of the document or find out who created the document so you can ask them questions about it. This helps keep track of changes or comments to documents.
It is also used by the Office program and other document programs. Windows Explorer uses this information, for example, to categorize and sort documents.
Why do I want to remove the metadata?
Let’s go back to the letter you are sending to the authorities about something sketchy at work. You do this anonymously because you are afraid of retaliation or simply do not want to participate, except to bring it to the attention of the authorities. This is the exposure.
You struggle to get a temporary email address and send it from a shared computer in the library to cover your tracks. Due to metadata, the document may contain information that can be used to provide feedback to you. It may even have your name attached to it.
Worse, the changes you make to the document may remain in the document, although they are no longer visible to you. If you wrote a paragraph about something specific to you, but then deleted it because it could identify you, it could still be part of the file as metadata.
How do I view Office metadata?
Below is a list of methods to find out what metadata is attached to your Word, Excel, or PowerPoint files. The email metadata sent from Outlook is much more complex and beyond the scope of this article.
View metadata in Word, Excel or PowerPoint
With a document, book, or presentation you want to check open:
Click “File” in the upper left corner.
On the information screen, you will see a lot of information such as size, pages, words, total edit time, last change, creation and associated people, and other data.
Below this data, click Show All Properties to see more data.
NOTE. Pay attention to the template data. If you used a template that had your name or company name in the file name, this could be traced back to you.
Viewing metadata in Windows Explorer
Open Windows Explorer and navigate to where you saved the file.
Right-click the file and select Properties.
In the Properties window, go to the Details tab. You will see all the metadata in a compact and concise list.
View all metadata for Word, Excel, or PowerPoint files
The Extensible Markup Language (XML) is the actual document for storing metadata in calculations. It accompanies all types of files and Microsoft Office files are no exception.
Viewing these XML documents is surprisingly easy. Let’s do this with a Word file.
- Open Windows Explorer and navigate to where you saved the file.
- Make a copy of the file so you don’t have to. accidentally damaged the original file.
- Select the copy file and either press the F2 key on your keyboard, or right-click the file and select Rename.
Change the file extension from .docx to .zip. Yes, every type of Office file that ends in x is a compressed file that contains XML documents. You will receive a warning about this. Click Yes.
Right click on the file and select “Extract All
The window that opens will ask you where you want to save the extracted files, and if you want to show the extracted files when finished. The defaults are good. Click Checkout.
When the extraction is complete, you will see three folders and an XML file. Examine these files to find out what information is stored there. If you double-click an XML file, it will most likely open in Internet Explorer.
It will look strange, but you should be able to figure out what most of the information means. There are two XML files that can contain your name: core.xml in the docProps folder and document.xml and people.xml in the word folder.
How to delete metadata from Microsoft Word, Excel, or PowerPoint
It took a long time to get here, but if you are going to do something like this, you should know exactly why. Let’s continue.
Remove metadata in Word, Excel or PowerPoint
Click “File” in the upper left corner.
On the Information page, click Check for Issues on the left, near the middle of the page.
Click Check Document. The Document Inspector window will open.
Make sure all the boxes in the Document inspector are checked, then click the Check button.
When you finish working with the Document Inspector, you will see information about what data it found. A green check mark in a circle means that no data of this type was found. A red exclamation mark indicates that this type of data was found. Next to the description of this data type, you will see the “Delete All” button.
Click on it to delete all data of this type. There may be several of these buttons, so scroll down to make sure you get them all.
After removing the metadata, you can click the Recheck button to make sure you haven’t missed anything.
Save your document now to avoid re-entering data.
How to make sure metadata has been removed
Follow the steps above to view all metadata in Word, Excel, or PowerPoint. After checking the core.xml, document.xml, and people.xml files, you should see that the document no longer contains personal data.
If you change the extension from .zip to .docx again, you should be able to open the file normally in Word again.
How to delete metadata in Windows Explorer
This is a good method if you want to quickly remove metadata from multiple files. This can be done for 2 or more files in seconds.
Open Windows Explorer and navigate to the file from which you want to remove the metadata. Right-click the file and select Properties.
In the Properties window, click the Details tab, then click Remove Properties and Personal Information.
You can delete information in two ways. You can remove metadata from the original file or make a copy of the file without any metadata.
Remove metadata from source file
Select “Remove the following properties from this file”: then select only the checkboxes you want, or click the “Select All” button. Then click OK.
Make a copy without metadata
This will make a copy of the file and add the word Copy to the end of the file name. This copy will have no metadata associated with it.
In the Delete Properties window, select Create a Copy with All Possible Properties Deleted and click OK.
Compare the properties of the original and the copy to see the difference.
Does this mean that you are clean? Can’t you be identified now by your document? Hard to tell. This will determine what you do next with the document.
Any further digital processing of the document, such as sending it by email, can add the metadata back to the chain. A possible option is to print the document and send it by mail. Getting metadata off paper is difficult.