Technology – The Double-Edged Sword

Metadata – What It Is And Why It Should Concern You

We have all, at one time or another, hit the send button a fraction of a second too soon only to have an unedited message get sent to an unintended recipient. The embarrassment is all too real once we recognize what we have done, knowing there is no way to retrieve our missive. On the other hand, there is a sense of satisfaction when we have collaborated on a project, checked and rechecked our figures, honed the verbiage to perfection, attached the document and finally hit the send button confident our work is ready for distribution.

Before you send your next report, however, consider our new age of information. Metadata that has long been available in a file (such as date and time of file creation and date modified) has gradually been augmented by Microsoft in more recent versions of Office products. When generating an Office document, Microsoft allows your team to track changes as the work progresses. In theory, this feature works to refine the process and inform each member of the team what changes are being made each step of the way. The final work product does not show these changes. Tracking is for review and editing purposes only.

However, the Track Changes feature can make things not only interesting, but uncomfortable. Changes may not appear in the final printed document, but they remain embedded in the electronic file. When the document is distributed electronically and these changes are not manually removed, all sorts of information can be viewed: original text, editing markups, notes and estimated numbers can all be opened and viewed by the recipients.

Unfortunately, there is no shortcut or automatic fix. This Microsoft article can help you manually remove information which should not be transmitted or viewed by anyone but the originating parties.

Our final work product is in our hands. Once we gain an understanding of the technology we are using and the results it produces, we can avoid the embarrassment and legal pitfalls that accompany conveying unnecessary information.

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