Document metadata

It remains somewhat amazing to me that governments and major international institutions so frequently forget what it means to distribute documents in Word format. In particular, people are surprisingly ignorant of how Word tracks changes: making documents into a palimpsest of revisions, not all of which you want the outside world to see. You don’t want the comment about how pointless one of the ‘key items’ in your ‘corporate vision’ is making it into the file that gets passed to the New York Times. Even the early copy of the Summary for Policymakers of the 4th Assessment Report of the IPCC that I have includes a few notes about edits that still need to be done.

Hopefully, closed standards like Word documents will fall by the wayside during the next decade or so. It is insane to be distributing so much information in a proprietary format for no good reason (just one more manifestation of monopolistic dominance). Hopefully, whichever open document format eventually comes to be standard will have better means for assessing and controlling what information you are inadvertantly embedding in your press releases, reports, spreadsheets, etc. Until then, lax security is likely to keep offering some interesting glances into the drafting processes of such publicized documents.

PS. One other thing to remember is that the standard jpg images produced by Adobe Photoshop include thumbnail files that are not edited when you change the image. As such, a face blurred out of the large version may still be recognizable in the embedded thumbnail version. The same goes for areas that may have been cropped from the image entirely. I am sure Cat Schwartz isn’t the only person who has suffered public embarassment because of this. No doubt, many other pieces of software include such counter intuitive and potentially problematic behaviours.

Author: Milan

In the spring of 2005, I graduated from the University of British Columbia with a degree in International Relations and a general focus in the area of environmental politics. In the fall of 2005, I began reading for an M.Phil in IR at Wadham College, Oxford. Outside school, I am very interested in photography, writing, and the outdoors. I am writing this blog to keep in touch with friends and family around the world, provide a more personal view of graduate student life in Oxford, and pass on some lessons I've learned here.

10 thoughts on “Document metadata”

  1. I’ll bet a kidnapping plot or two was undermined by the Photoshop ‘feature’ you describe.

  2. “The United Nations withheld some of the most damaging allegations against Syria in its report on the murder of Rafik Hariri, the former Lebanese Prime Minister, it emerged [Friday].

    The names of the brother of Bashar al-Assad, President of Syria, and other members of his inner circle, were dropped from the report that was sent to the Security Council.

    The confidential changes were revealed by an extraordinary computer gaffe because an electronic version distributed by UN officials on Thursday night allowed recipients to track editing changes.”


  3. Tactics, Targets, and Objectives

    If you encounter an aggressive lion, stare him down. But not a leopard; avoid his gaze at all costs. In both cases, back away slowly; don’t run. If you stumble on a pack of hyenas, run and climb a tree; hyenas can’t climb trees. But don’t do that if you’re being chased by an elephant; he’ll just knock the tree down. Stand still until he forgets about you.

    I spent the last few days on safari in a South African game park, and this was just some of the security advice we were all given. What’s interesting about this advice is how well-defined it is. The defenses might not be terribly effective — you still might get eaten, gored or trampled — but they’re your best hope. Doing something else isn’t advised, because animals do the same things over and over again. These are security countermeasures against specific tactics.

  4. Apparently, camera phones produce a lot of metadata:

    “While mining EXIF data from images is nothing new, how many people would allow this data to leave their cell phone if they knew what it contained? The source code for the scripts is also available from the article.” “399 images included the location of the camera at the time the image was taken, and 102 images included the name of the photographer. … The iPhone is including the most EXIF information among the images we found. … It not only includes the phone’s location, but also accelerometer data showing if the phone was moved at the time the picture was taken and the readout from the [built-]in compass showing in which direction the phone was pointed at the time.”

  5. Pingback: iPhone 4 camera
  6. Stolen Camera Finder

    Mark Frauenfelder at 12:38 PM Friday, Apr 29, 2011

    Matt Burns created this website to help you find your stolen camera. It looks on the web for other photos with the same EXIF ID.

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