The vast majority of us do not know what metadata is, yet it exists within every document we create and has the potential to harm.
Metadata is information about a document and every time one is attached to an email, the metadata is sent with it. As it is generally hidden, it is important to understand the relative risk of leaving metadata in documents when they are shared. At one end of the scale, document metadata leaks can lead to loss of confidence, angry clients or disciplinary action. While at the other end, serious reputational damage, scandals and lawsuits can result, especially if social security or personally identifiable information is involved.
What is Metadata?
A document’s metadata is information about one or more aspects of the document. It can include data about who created it, the date it was created, the date it was last accessed, the date it was last modified, file locations etc.
If you are working with colleagues on a Word document for example, the embedded metadata will include details of each collaborator, every change and the order in which the changes were made. A lawyer would not want these details passed on to the opposing counsel. If they know how to turn on the ‘Track Changes’ then this will happen. Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and PDF all routinely create metadata, though each contains different types.
Managing Metadata Risk
Company policy drives metadata management and should be enforced to prevent employees exposing the organization to risk. Typically metadata should be removed from documents before they are emailed to prevent confidential or sensitive information being inadvertently shared with the wrong people. Workshare enables this without interrupting workflows or imposing the use of a separate application.