What is Metadata?
Most Word documents contain hidden metadata that shows the history of the document. That data shows when the document was first created, who authored the document, total editing time, and the last time the document was modified. Even more troubling, if the document was edited in Track Changes, those comments and revisions may still be accessible even though you have turned off Track Changes.
You never want your opposing counsel or a judge to see a comment in your brief explaining that a certain case goes against your position, but that you have decided not to cite that case. And you certainly don’t want them to see a comment that may contain confidential information about your client. Indeed, you don’t want to share information that might seem harmless, such as the date you created the document or the amount of time you spent editing the document.
The PDF Option
If you are sharing a document that does not need to be edited or revised, save it as a PDF before sharing. The PDF will not show hidden metadata.
How to “Scrub” a Word Document
But if you must share a document in Word format, you’ll need to take some extra steps to “scrub” hidden metadata from the document. Indeed, you might want to “scrub” your documents as a matter of routine before sharing them with anyone outside your office.
First, you should instruct Word to warn you before you save or send a file that has been edited with Track Changes:
- Click on the File tab
- Select Options
- Go to the Trust Center box
- Click on Trust Center Settings
- Click on Privacy Options on the right
- Check Warn before printing, saving or sending a file that contains track changes or comments.
Second, you must scrub the paper of hidden metadata. Turning off Track Changes will not scrub your paper of comments. Instead, you must use the Document Inspector to remove the hidden metadata. Here’s how:
- Click on the File tab
- Click Check for Issues in the Prepare for Sharing box
- Click Inspect Document
- Check four of the six boxes: (1) Comments, Revisions, Versions, and Annotations; (2) Custom XML Data; (3)Document Properties and Personal Information; and (6)(at the bottom) Hidden Text.
- The Document Inspector will then identify the types of hidden data in the document and give you the option to Remove All of each type of data.
The Document Inspector will not remove highlighting, so you must remove it yourself:
- Click the File tab
- Click Options
- Click Display
- In the box for Page Display Options, turn off Show highlighter marks.
Work from Templates to Avoid the Problem of Metadata
In The Lawyer’s Guide to Microsoft Word 2007, Ben Schorr offers a great suggestion for limiting metadata. He suggests that you avoid the common practice of working from existing documents, because existing documents may still contain metadata. Instead, he recommends that you work in your office’s squeaky-clean templates and copy passages from the donor document into the template as needed. (Every lawyer should have Schorr’s book on their desk. Here’s the link to the updated version: The Lawyer’s Guide to Microsoft Word 2010. ) But remember, if you work in Track Changes in the new document, you will have to scrub it when you are done.
So never share your secrets. How clean are your documents?
(By the way, my book, contains many more tips like this.)