Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Urgent: Read This If You Use A Computer

                Metadata scares the living daylights out of me.

                Metadata is something that's been around for a long time but which has only recently come to the attention of the mainstream media and the public in general.

                Metadata is information encrypted in every document that you prepare using a computer.

    So far so good.

                This  encrypted information is forever  attached like superglue to the document you prepared and it includes everything that may have been included in that writing before it was finalized to your satisfaction.

                When you send that document to another person by way of e-mail or any other form of digital transfer, your Metadata goes along for the ride and you don't even know it.

    Enter the miners.

                Using special  software, those receiving your electronic mail can "mine" the Metadata.

                The recipient can re-create every single keystroke you entered in the preparation of your document and therefore will have access to all of the earlier versions of your written conveyance.

                If you are accustomed to placing comments in the margin of documents for private limited circulation prior to final draft, your confidential remarks can now be viewed by those to whom you are sending the final document.

                Imagine the nasty e-mail prepared in the heat of the moment that you edit before you hit the send key. You were relieved that you allowed yourself to cool off and remove the offensive diatribe prior to sending that message.

                The object of your erased anger learns what you originally intended to say by mining the Metadata.


    In case you doubt whether this  sort of thing really happens, read on.

    When President Bush nominated Sam Alito to the  Supreme Court, his nomination was placed in doubt because of an anonymous and damaging anti-Alito memorandum that made its way into the offices of members of     the     United     States Senate.

                 Mining the Metadata allowed Senate staffers to determine that the memorandum was actually prepared and sent by members of the Democratic National Committee. Oops.

                 Here's another one.  In 2005 Great Britain's Home Secretary sent an e-mail showing his support for anti-terrorism legislation.

                Some sophisticated mining of the Metadata showed that this English politician actually harbored early doubts about the legislation which were omitted in his final draft.

                The situation is so serious that the American Bar Association has actually suggested that the best way to communicate is simply by producing a hard copy of all documents and then sending them through the United States mail using that ancient object called a postage stamp.

                The Postmaster General of the United States, faced with  e-mails   cutting  into his revenue,  is doing cartwheels.

                So stock up on your stationery and invest in a few thousand "Forever" stamps.

                Your Metadata is following you.

                Leave it behind and together we'll save the Post Office.

                 And perhaps your reputation.   

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