How to Reduce Your Digital Trail

How to Reduce Your Digital Trail

Metadata Breadcrumbs

Metadata is much like breadcrumbs leaving a trail straight to your identity. Metadata attaches tags to define and categorize data onto all types of files, including audio clips, images, word documents, and video. The tags provide essential details about the file, like its data, size, location, and author. Music files are an example of a type of file that uses metadata. The information contained in the metadata could include details such as date, title, location recorded, or performer. The information contained within the metadata helps your computer or other music application search for and locate specific music files.

In other documents that you create, files could contain your identity, your GPS location, and more. If you post a photo on Facebook, the idea is to share the contents of the image. That the great photo of your dog in your backyard could be a great image to share, but details that are likely attached in the metadata contains your name as the author, along with the GPS coordinates of your home. When your children post images, they too are posting their likeness along with your home address. Consider the dangers.

Due to the need to limit the data you post online or leave elsewhere for others to view, it can be necessary to change or remove metadata from your file saving methods. Removing metadata that is already attached to a file isn’t as easy as it would seem. Once connected, even alterations are recorded and when and by whom the changes were made. There are some ‘best practices’ for handling and reducing your metadata. Leave less of a digital trail in your computer use by removing the default information attached to your files. Keep privacy as an essential fundamental concept in front of mind when using your computer. Safe-computing methods should also be reviewed with your children; teach them early to understand and control the data they post or release.

Best Practices for Metadata

There are some ‘best practices’ or general tips to ensure that the information you post online or share with others is only the data you wish to share. Limiting, reducing, or completely eliminating metadata from your files as they are created may be the best way to reduce your metadata trail.
• Learn how to save your files in a format that does not store or has minimal metadata. One example would be to convert your word documents into text (.txt) or rich text (.rtf) file format, which does not include metadata. When using images, change the file format to a PNG file format.
• Try running a cleaner – specifically for metadata. One standard example is Microsoft Office’s Document Inspector, which is designed to identify and remove metadata.                                                                                                         • Review your preferences and settings on every application and device you use. By changing the default configuration options, you may be able to limit or remove the metadata that is stored and created.
• Before sending or posting files, consider what impact it could make on your daily life if the file contains metadata. This can be especially alarming if you post photos or videos to social media, like Twitter or Facebook. Be sure you are only publishing an image, not your identity and home address.

Identify and Remove Metadata

As individuals, we all use computing in different ways. For some, it could be work, others social. One individual may produce many word documents while another, who has a photography hobby or business, posts many images. Take a moment to understand the types of files you regularly produce and how you can remove metadata from these files. Consider your settings for these types of files, change or alter the default settings so that only the details you allow are included in the metadata. Removing all metadata is unnecessary, but using a conscientious approach to what metadata is recorded can help you control what details are released. A necessary review of your most used applications’ default file settings could help reset or remove the data collected.

Metadata isn’t hard to remove. Several methods for the removal or reduction of metadata are available. The first step to taking control is to learn to identify and remove metadata currently being recorded. Let’s take a look at how to view and remove metadata on your operating systems.

Windows Operating System – Identifying and Removing Metadata:
1. Locate the file needed.
2. Right-click on the file.
3. Choose ‘Properties.’
4. Select ‘Details.’ Here, you can see the metadata attached to the file.
5. Choose ‘Remove Properties and Personal Information.’

A second option is to use ‘Document Inspector.’ This is a built-in tool for all Microsoft applications. This tool will help you to identify metadata and give you the options to change or remove it.

Using a Mac? No problem:
1. Choose file.
2. Select ‘Preferences.’
3. Choose ‘Security.’
4. Click ‘Privacy.’
5. Under the Privacy option, you can then view metadata and choose to remove it.
6. To remove – select ‘Remove Personal Information’ on the save screen.

Remove Metadata from Images

There are a variety of ways to remove metadata from your photos. Below you will find instructions to set you on your path to leaving fewer details behind your posts.

In Windows:
1. Locate the image.
2. Right-click on the image.
3. Select ‘Properties.’
4. Choose ‘Details.’
5. At this point, you will find a list of attributes applied to your image.
6. Click on ‘Value’ for each element.
7. For any editable data, you can type in, delete, or replace the old information.
8. Finish by clicking ‘OK.’

Changing image metadata in Mac:
1. Open photo in ‘Preview.’
2. Go to Menu.
3. Select ‘Tools.’
4. Select ‘Show Inspector.’
5. Choose the (i) tab.
6. Choose the ‘EXIF’ tab.
7. Remove or alter data.

Remove EXIF data from your iPhone images:
1. Open’ Photos.’
2. Choose an image.
3. Click ‘Share.’
4. Choose ‘View EXIF.’
5. Click ‘Share.’
6. Resave image using ‘Without Metadata.’

Removing Metadata for Word Documents

Yes, even your primary Word doc contains metadata. Word could be an application that you use often, or perhaps your children use it often to write school papers. Either way, each time you post something from your computer that has been created in Word, it gives more information in the background than what you likely intended to share. Removing metadata from a Word file is easy.

After opening your word document:
1. Click on the ‘File’ tab in Word, in the upper left corner.
2. Tap on ‘Info.’
3. Choose ‘Check for Issues.’
4. Select ‘Inspect Document.’
5. To view data – click on ‘Show All Properties.’
6. If Word finds metadata, it will give you options such as ‘Remove All.’
7. From here, you can change or altogether remove data.
8. Re-Save file.

Video Files Contain Metadata

Don’t forget those fun video clips you made to post on social media also contain metadata. Take a moment to remove the information before posting. You can do sets or groups of videos at once if you have several.
1. Choose file or files.
2. Right-click on one of the files.
3. Choose ‘Properties.’
4. Select ‘Details.’
5. Click on ‘Remove Properties and Personal Information.’
6. Choose what you want to remove.
7. Choose ‘OK.’
8. Resave file without metadata.

Moving Forward

There may not be a complete way to remove your entire metadata trail. As individuals, we create metadata as we go through our lives and other corporations have control over some types of metadata collected. You can drastically reduce your trail. Following safe computing guidelines and restricting the amount of metadata you release can help substantially. Teach other household members about metadata and the steps to take to remove it from files before any social media posts are made. Take control over the data you leave behind, and become responsible for the trail that follows you. You can find ways to reduce your digital imprint and promote safety in your home, business, or other online interactions.