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The easiest way to keep metadata private: html5 viewing

Some cars come with two keys: One that works the doors and ignition but not the trunk, and another just for the trunk.

The two-key system enables you to let a friend, mechanic or valet operate your car while still keeping whatever’s in the trunk safe and secure. Having two keys lets you empower a third party to drive or fix your car without granting that person access to the laptop you keep over your spare tire.

The same kind of protection is available for documents. Original document and image files contain hidden metadata that may include such information as the names of the creator and editors of the document, the place and time it was created, comments, a record of changes made to the document and even the creator’s and editors’ email addresses and phone numbers. Even social media postings carry hidden metadata that reveals information about the poster.

Most people have little awareness of how much hidden identifying data is attached to their files, and never even go looking for the menu items that show them the metadata.

But since the revelation that the National Security Agency had been harvesting metadata from email messages and attachments to learn more about suspects in a controversial domestic espionage operation, a few folks have become downright nervous about what the files they share reveal about them.

Others are increasingly aware of, and feel a little invaded by, the ways advertisers are cracking open social media posts and other public files to generate targeted advertising to consumers based on the personal information marketers cull from metadata.

At both the enterprise and personal level, there’s an easy way to keep metadata private: HTML5 viewing. When you email a Word, PDF or image file, or make it available from a download link on a website or blog, or post it to social media, the metadata tags along. This makes it available to anyone who opens the file. Same goes for images, and message files. But when you share that same file through an HTML5 viewer, your intended audience can read the document or see the image, but the metadata remains hidden.

In fact, the metadata never even travels through the network to the reader. On the server before transmission, the HTML5 viewer rapidly converts the original file to a high-fidelity scalable graphics format that perfectly replicates the appearance of the original but includes none of the original metadata. HTML5 viewing empowers you to show and share content without giving away the key to the trunk.

An HTML5 viewer can be installed at the enterprise level, or integrated with a content-management system like SharePoint, to quickly display metadata-free documents through the browser on any device. Website and app authors can tap a SaaS-based viewer like Accusoft Cloud Services Viewer to embed a window that shows any document without bringing the metadata along for the ride.

And individuals who want to share content without sharing metadata can simply upload their documents to a cloud-based HTML5 viewing service like the free Prizm Share site, then email or post a link to the cloud version. Recipients of the link can read the doc or see the image with one click, but can’t get to the metadata by any means… because there isn’t any.

If you’re getting a little nervous about what your metadata is telling the world about you, there’s no need to try to figure out how to scrub the hidden data from every type of file you share. Make HTML5 viewing the window on your content, and keep the metadata where it belongs: out sight, and out of mind.