Vista Hands On #6: Remove private information from a file

Vista Hands On #6: Remove private information from a file

Summary: Metadata within a file can tell a lot about you - maybe even more than you want the world to know. A new option in Windows Vista allows you to easily zap unwanted details stored in the properties of a file. Here's how to find this feature and use it.

TOPICS: Windows

Metadata within a file can tell a lot about you. Cameras record data about when a picture was taken and what camera was used. Documents and spreadsheets contain details about their creators. Music files are tagged with artist and album information. With user-created tags, you can add personal and business details that might be useful on a local copy but are unwise to disclose in the wider world.

To scrub a file of unwanted metadata in Windows Vista, follow these steps:

1. Open the file in Windows Explorer.

2. Right-click the file icon and click Properties.

3. On the Details tab, click Remove Properties and Personal Information. This opens the Remove Properties dialog box:

At this point you have two choices. The default option creates a copy of your file (using the original file name with the word Copy appended to it) and then removes all properties it can change, based on the file type. Or you can click the bottom option and selectively remove properties from the file.

Update: A Talkback commenter asks whether this works with multiple files. Yes, indeed it does. When you select a group of files you can add, remove, or change metadata for all selected files using this dialog box.

If you see a check box next to a property, you can erase that property's current contents. No check box? That means the data is not removable.

And a word of common sense. This option zeroes out metadata, but it does nothing with the contents of the file itself. You'll need to be vigilant that a photo doesn't contain potentially revealing information or that hidden data and comments aren't buried in the document.

Topic: Windows

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  • Quick Question

    Is there an easy way to do this to multiple files at the same time or do you have to perform this for each individual file?
    • You can do this for multiple files

      Good question. I'll edit the post to make that clear.
      Ed Bott
  • Ironic. I thought Vista was about eliminating anonymity...

    Assuming you can believe its efficacy, I suppose it's a nice touch.
    • What made you think that?

      Seriously, what features did you think were about "eliminating anonymity" in Vista?
      Ed Bott
      • Simple:

        Activation. you know, to keep someone from anonymously handing out 200 copies of the same disk...

        John Zern
        • But activation is anonymous

          There is no, zero, personally identifiable information in the activation or validation routine. It's all turned into a hash that is transmitted and can't be broken down into its component parts.

          So how does activation compromise anonymity?
          Ed Bott
  • Another recomendation

    While your cleaning up the metadata, take care of the 'track changes' and what not in Office documents as well.
    I have seen way too many "seriously not funny" issues arise from ignoring that step.

    Is there something similar built into Office07?
    • Yes, Office 2007 has this tool built in

      Office 2007 has a Document Inspector feature that identifies comments, metadata, hidden text (and a lot more) and offers the option to remove it.

      This feature is available for earlier Office versions as an add-in.
      Ed Bott
  • A way to detect this has been done?

    In certain types of litigation, wiping metadata would be considered as bad as shredding documents. Is there any way on Vista to detect that this has been done? Perhaps it is a simple as any file with no metadata has been wiped?
  • Remove Properties

    I have one file where clicking on 'Remove Properties and Personal Information' does nothing.

    Does not bring up the 'Remove Properties' dialog or show any message.

    What's wrong? How to fix?
  • RE: Vista Hands On #6: Remove private information from a file

    And that's another option to remove metadata from JPEG photos. It's able to delete even that tags, which are locked in Windows file properties.