Remove tell-tale metadata from Microsoft apps

Remove tell-tale metadata from Microsoft apps

Summary: When you send a Word document to a client or a co-worker, you are also sending metadata - info about the document - as well. You can easily include embarrassing comments, hidden text or info helpful to hackers.


When you send a Word document to a client or a co-worker, you are also sending metadata - info about the document - as well. You can easily include embarrassing comments, hidden text or info helpful to hackers. Here's how to get rid of it.

Start with this Microsoft support document Titled How to minimize metadata in Office documents, the document covers the following Office apps:

Easy until you try it What could be simpler! Almost anything. Check out this partial list of metadata to remove from Word 2002:

  • How to Automatically Remove Personal Information When You Save
  • How to Manually Remove Your User Name from Your Documents
  • How to Manually Remove Personal Summary Information
  • How to Manually Remove Personal Summary Information When Connected to a Network
  • How to Manually Remove Comments in Documents
  • How to Manually Remove Headers and Footers from Documents
  • How to Manually Remove Revision Marks
  • How to Turn Off Fast Saves
  • How to Search for and Remove Text That Is Formatted As Hidden
  • How to Remove Hyperlinks from Documents
  • How to Remove Old File Versions from Documents
  • How to Remove Links from Field Codes
  • How to Remove the Template Name and Location
  • How to Remove Routing Slip Information
  • How to Remove Mail Recipient Information
  • How to Remove the Names of Previous Authors
  • How to Remove Visual Basic References to Other Files
  • How to Remove Network or Hard Disk Information
  • Embedded Objects in Documents May Contain Metadata
  • How to Remove the AdHocReviewCycleID Property from Documents

Kudos to Microsoft for publishing these papers. But for the next round of Office updates, how about a simple "Minimize Metadata" button on the toolbar?

Security shouldn't be this hard.

Comments welcome, of course. What is your most embarrassing metadata story?

Topics: Microsoft, Collaboration, Software

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  • A format change is often easier...

    If you're sending the file to someone who just needs to read it, I would convert the document to PDF. No metadata with no fuss.
    • RE: Remove tell-tale metadata from Microsoft apps

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  • Word Bytes Man!...

    D T Schmitz
  • The ultimate metadata embarrassment...

    Not me, but someone who must not have had a clue about the existence of metadata.
    • I thought the Canon Rebel

      deal I got on Flatbush Ave in Brooklyn was a little too good to be true. I guess I should have got a little suspicion when he insisted that I fill out the registration card and mail it in before I took the camera home. Oh well! I wonder how life in Sing-sing will be.

      BTW: The only Canon camera I own is AE-1 Program.
  • I agree - privacy is too often invaded by the exploitation of metadata

    Hackers and corporate snoops can use metadata to learn a lot about users habits. By now, many people know enough to learn how to cler caches in their browsers and for Windows users, how to use software to clear the registry of typed URLS, opened programs, etc.

    For the overwhelming majority of people who are decent and law-abiding, our rights to privacy need to be protected from undesired investigations. Microsoft could easily add such a toolbar button if they wanted to do so, and there are already many third-party tools which purport to do this already.
  • MS has a plugin
    called 'remove hidden data'. It works quite well.

    However, while you can put it on every machine, you can't make that fool sitting at the keyboard USE the thing before publishing a document....
    Wonder when that plugin will come out
  • An easy solution - no extra software required!

    Just save your doc as a RTF file, reopen it in Word and save again as a DOC file. Saving in rich text throws away all the metadata whilst preserving the format, resaving in DOC means your recvipients aren't confused by this unusual format.

    You'll be amazed how much smaller those files become!

  • What value does metadata provide?

    Obviously time and effort was expended on this. To what end? Other than the possibility of silent traceablity . . .is that it?
    • Metadata Has Been Used in Lawsuits

      Often, people represent one thing but metadata reveals another. For example, if a partner in a law firm bills 20 hours for working on a brief but metadta reveals that an associate did all the work and bills at 1/3 the hourly rate, why should you pay the partner's higher rate?

      There've been a number of lawsuits with metadata as evidence, as a web seach would reveal:
    • It's there for corporate data retrieval

      The metadata is there so that at a later time you can identify who added what to a document, who did the final typing/formatting of the document, and such. From a corporate archivist point of view, it's excellent, because you can use metadata to embed search terms and "organizing info" for lack of a better phrase. Sometimes documents talk about a subject without using a word associated with that subject, i.e., "ground", "earth", "soil", "dirt". If you're preparing reports on soil samples, for example, you could include metadata to group reports of nearby sites together. This way you could easily retrieve all the soil sample reports for "Northwest Iowa" instead of doing the retrieval by individual counties (or even worse -- by individual townships.)
      • All nice and good, but...

        What about some metadata showing your files structure. I mean: starting at root, and to the names of almost all of your files. Or large chunks of other documents containing confidential data, user names and passwords, all of it in plain, uncrypted, text.
        I personaly know of such cases.
    • Metadata has many different

      uses. One use of metadata is to allow users to undo changes to a document. It's also used to provide formatting specs for the document. When a person opens up for instance Word 97 document in Word XP, the way Word knows that the document is Word 97 format is from the metadata stored with the document.
  • The $64,000 question

    Why is all this crud there in the forst place? It has nothing to do with anything.
    • Ask any 20 year old comp sci major . . .

      And they can think of a dozen reasons why it would be good. Since Msoft hires fresh
      out of college - cheaper that way - they don't have much perspective.

      Seems like there are very few Microsofties with real world business (or IT) experience.
      Redmond is not the real world.

      R Harris
  • Word Metadata removal

    For corporate use, the answer is an add-on called Workshare Professional, which analyses for all Office 2003 document metadata, including comments and tracked changes, then either sanitizes the doc or converts to Acrobat format on the fly. The app also integrates with Outlook to perform the cleanup automatically on outgoing e-mail attachments. Good stuff, and essential for law firms and the like.
  • A simple solution for simple documents 2.x and its variations have a global configuration option (that is, it does not apply only to the document currently being edited) that removes all metadata on saving. I have not personally checked to what extent this is true, but it's probably more reliable than the Microsoft steps.

    So, if one prefers to work with MS Office, do it until the document is finished, then open it again in OOo and save it. Voil?? (or rather not), the metadata is gone.

    Two catches:

    - OOo doesn't always import or export complex MS Office documents flawlessly. This is particularly true for MS Word documents with complex tables or formatting, including extensive use of different text colors. This is why I wrote "for simple documents" in this note's caption.

    - Ooo tends to save larger documents than MS Office. Expect the file size to grow 30%-50% relative to the original MS Office 2003 document.

    If it is a plain, straightforward text, spreadsheet or presentation, however, and file size is not a concern, Ooo can be a quick, practical solution.
  • Is it REALLY that hard?

    Can't you just click the "Office button" in the upper left corner, and choose "Inspect Document" under the Prepare flyout?

    Could it have been designed much easier?
  • yeah, I know I've sent out docs like that

    There have been tons of times when either my copy or
    someone else's copy has inserted all kinds of meta-data that
    really shouldn't be included when sending these documents,
    especially in the work place.

    I got into the habit of always Saving As and deleting all the
    fields in the more info section.. No one ever USES those fields
    but the info in them pops up in some places.

    If it were actually useful metadata then I'd feel differently. But
    everything MS programs automatically gather is useless.
  • Office 2007 Document Inspector

    Office 2007 has been out for more than a year and includes this...