March 01, 2013

Metadata: The Good, the Bad, and the Misunderstood

Donna Payne

Metadata headlines have made a resurgence in recent months. One headline read, “General Petraeus Brought Down by Metadata.” And, of course, there was the article about the software king turned fugitive, John McAfee, whose location in Central America was easily pinpointed after he sent pictures of himself while on the lam.

Although metadata is now a common word in our vocabulary, it is arguably overhyped. Metadata was branded with a scarlet letter primarily because we all heard about people inadvertently leaving tracked changes or comments in their documents. Or, according to a judge with whom I had a conversation over lunch, because the issue garnered so much attention that the courts (and bar associations) were forced to issue rulings without fully understanding the subject.

Ultimately, metadata is not bad—it’s just misunderstood. Metadata is absolutely essential in making a file operable; without it, we would not know where on our computer a file is stored, its filename, or other necessary information.

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