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

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.
Written by Ed Bott, Senior Contributing Editor

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.

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