Metadata, secrets, and user education

Cory Doctorow at BoingBoing does everyone a favor by pointing to the new “Remove Hidden Data” tool for Office XP and Office 2003. Few people know (or care) how much information is revealed by the standard metadata and revision information that is tracked inside Office files, including name of original author, template, editing time, and the ability to peel back revisions to understand the evolution of a document.

From a textual standpoint, this stuff is fascinating; there’s never been an opportunity to so quickly and simply lay bare the mechanics of the creation of texts before. I expect to see Jerome McGann doing a book on this sometime soon. 🙂 But of course from a business and politics standpoint the fact that so many people don’t know about this feature and what it exposes is a little scary.

Which raises a question: why is there no permanent way to disable tracking author name, editing time and the other core metadata? It’s easy to understand how documents get sent out with this information on them since the data is always there whether you ask for it or not. It’s harder to understand why people don’t always accept all changes when they’s sending out a final version document that was created in revision tracking mode. The first exposure is done from ignorance, but someone has to go in and turn on revision tracking…