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Confidentiality and MetaData in Word Documents

This chapter is different from others in the Users' Guide. Rather than a tutorial, it is primarily a copy of an article by Bob Blacksberg that originally appeared in Woody's Office Watch. It highlights potential pitfalls of sharing Word documents in their electronic form. This has to do with "metadata" which is information contained in a document about the document itself (information about information). Metadata includes document properties and history. It can also include things that you deleted from the document but which are still contained (unseen) in the electronic version!

Additional Written or Web Resources

bulletMinimizing MetaData Risks by Perfect Access
bullet Removing Meta Data from Word 2007 Documents by Nerino Petro (State Bar of Wisconsin)
bullet Office Remove Hidden Data Tool - Microsoft (Office 2002-2003)
bullet Protecting Your Personal Data In Microsoft Word Documents
bulletMetaData Assistant by Payne Consulting Group
bulletAdditional Word of Law columns by Bob Blacksberg
bulletHow to Minimize MetaData in Microsoft Word Documents - Microsoft Knowledge Base Word 97, Word 2000, Word 2002
bulletNo Thanks for the Memories by James Fallows
bulletCoping With MetaData by Kate Evert of MicroSystems (includes listing of additional Knowledge Base articles)

"Think of file sharing as the “document swim-suit competition.” Let’s be sure our documents only display what we want them to!" Kate Evert

bulletPositive aspects of MetaData - Using MetaData
bulletLegal (ownership) rights to MetaData 
bulletThread on MetaData at Woody's Word Lounge
bulletMetaData Utility from Payne Consulting - alternative link - free version will show the MetaData contained in a document (they also have a version you pay for which will strip that data from the document).
bulletOffice Paranoia - Part I - Peace of Mind at the Click of a Button and Office Paranoia - Part II by Romke Soldaat - note that these are both complex VBA solutions to metadata problems and are on the subscription-only OfficePro site. However, you can sign up for a free 30-day subscription which will give you access to the articles and the ability to download the VBA code.
bullet Microsoft Word Bytes Tony Blair in the Butt!
bullet Outlook 2002's privacy busting feature. Woody's Office Watch (As far as I know, this is only in one version of Outlook but it adds info to any Office file!)
bullet Letterhead Textboxes and Styles Tutorial - two-page template download that demonstrates use of 
bullettextboxes in headers and footers to reserve space for preprinted letterhead
bulletStyles that are based on each other and use the style for following paragraph feature
bulletUse of the StyleRef field to insert information from the body of a letter into the continuation page headers automatically - this is the Word feature that can reduce metadata in headers and footers
bulletInsertion of a date automatically that will not change when you open the document at a later date (but can be changed manually)
bulletSee How can I get a different header - footer on the second page in Microsoft Word? for more on how this tutorial works.

 

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This chapter last edited by Charles Kenyon on Wednesday 22 February 2012 .

Previous MetaData Articles by Bob Blacksberg can be found in Woody's Office Watch Archives. WOW 5.42 and WOW 5.45

"THE WORD OF LAW

Power Word tips for all users, especially in legal and large organizations from Bob Blacksberg. Copied with express permission from Woody's Office Watch #5.54.

iSCRUB MY WORD DOCUMENTS CLEAN

Readers of this column may find helpful an article published in Peer to Peer, the newsletter of LawNet, entitled, "Three E's for Excellence: Critical Strategies for Microsoft Word." (http://www.peertopeer.org/archives/0011_03.htm). Written with a very tight word limit it summarizes the major themes of this column.

Since the appearance of the last Word of Law column, I have been working with my colleagues on the development of a enterprise-wide tool for the management and cleanup of Word metadata. We hope that by sharing some of the design concepts of what we call iScrub, we can help readers connect the concepts stated in this column with a metadata solution.

In the article in Peer to Peer, we offered the following critical rules for metadata management:

Create clean documents.

When creating a new document, disconnect it from its past life. Copy the body of the old document into a shell created with new document templates.

Edit cleanly.

Avoid use of Versions and Fast Save that can leave deleted text in a document. Add substantive or instructional comments using the Comment function, not hidden text, footnotes or endnotes.

Don't send, publish.

Users must practice appropriate procedures when sending or sharing an electronic copy of a file with outsiders. Publishing a document means following electronic cleanup procedures such as removing comments, undesired Track Changes or other unwanted information.

We drew on these principles, as well as the major themes of the series of columns on collaboration, when designing iScrub.

When creating a new document, use a new shell.

Many of the difficulties with metadata occur when documents are modified and saved under a new name, but then fail to lose their prior history. Even without a more sophisticated metadata solution, the practice of copying the core content of a document into a new document shell (preferably created from one of the organization's standard templates) helps cut off this old information. Other side benefits, such as reducing the number of unused styles or numbering list templates can also result from this technique.

The determination about what to clean from a document should be made at the firm-wide or company-wide level, and not be left to individual discretion.

This principle responds to at least two concerns. First, users should not be burdened to develop a personal understanding of the metadata issues. Many elements of metadata are quite technical, or at least divorced from everyday tasks of creating and editing documents. To expect the user community to master these issues and determine what steps are required to clean out metadata places imposes a great burden. Second, metadata cleanup should be performed consistently throughout the practice. From the perspective of law practice, this principle addresses whatever risk management concerns might be created by inconsistent, infrequent or haphazard metadata cleanup.

It should be possible to correct the metadata elements that directly indicate user identity to a firm- or company-wide standard on a continuous basis, without running a "cleanup macro" explicitly. A dynamic and continuously running solution is needed.

The October 20, 2000 article on the front page of the Wall Street Journal, entitled, "Beware, 'Invisible Ink' Inside Computer Files May Reveal Your Secrets" described the metadata issue for a broad reading public. This article described how metadata identifying a document's author tied an accusatory series of e-mails to the staff of an opposing candidate. The metadata solution should enable all documents created by an organization to have empty values for the documents "Author" and related identifying properties, or to have standard values, such as the name of the firm.

The metadata solution should distinguish between documents that are internal, documents that are shared with "cooperators" and documents that are transmitted to "adversaries."

Many of the elements that we have discussed as metadata may be valuable, or even critical when a document is used inside an organization. For instance, in order to make an organization's styles, macros and AutoText specific to a type of document available, a document's attached template is likely to be a template other than normal.dot. It might be desirable, to facilitate efficiency of document creation and production, for the document template to have specific information about a client, and even be named for the client. When sent outside the organization, however, it may be undesirable or even harmful for the document to indicate this relationship.

The motto, "Don't Send, Publish" captures this issue. The best time for metadata cleanup occurs when a document needs to be delivered electronically to a person outside an organization. Teaching users to use special procedures to "publish" a clean copy of the internal version of a document when transmitting it outside is achievable. It is the electronic equivalent of the instructions to check to see that there are no pencil markings or notes on the paper document before copying it for distribution. In iScrub, we classify the cleanup procedure "Publish as Scrubbed Document" and provide users with a choice of "Cooperator" or "Adversary" to determine the appropriate level of cleanup.

As usual, we welcome your comments about Word of Law columns to Bob Blacksberg.

WOODY's OFFICE WATCH - Copyright 2000 ISSN 1328-1674 Pinecliffe International and Peter Deegan. All rights reserved.

Woody's Office Watch (WOW) is a free eNewsletter. You can subscribe at: http://www.woodyswatch.com/

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Concluding Thoughts

bulletTurn off "fast saves." Do this for a lot of reasons, only one of which is confidentiality. Another good one is to avoid "document corruption."
bulletDon't use the "versions" feature. Instead, create a folder for backups and regularly save numbered copies as a document goes through revisions.
bulletDevelop templates for different kinds of documents and start a new document from a template rather than from a copy of an old document.
bulletHave a checklist for cleanup to be used prior to sending any document by electronic means.

Copyright on HTML and comments 2001, 2011 by Charles Kyle Kenyon.

Note that unlike most of the rest of the Intermediate Users' Manual, this article may not be copied without permission.

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