What Does Your Metadata Say About You?

Credits Indira Cornelio, Alma Uguarte Perez Last Updated 2017-06

In this session, you will introduce the concept of metadata, and the importance of being aware of the metadata present in different kinds of content – especially while conducting sensitive human rights work.

ADIDS Element


Parent Topic(s)

Safer Online Advocacy


90 minutes

This session was developed for, and should be attributed to, the Institute for War & Peace Reporting resource “Cyberwomen: Holistic Digital Security Training Curriculum for Women Human Rights Defenders” under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 4.0 International CC BY-SA 4.0 License

Materials to Prepare:

  • Slides (with key points included below)
  • Laptop/Computer and Projector setup
  • Example tools for analyzing and removing metadata

Trainer’s Note

  • While not required, this session is greatly enhanced for participants if they have already done the Input session “Networked Publics”.
  • Metadata is often one of the more complex topics to introduce in the training process - make sure to budget sufficient time to cover this session in detail, as it is quite critical and relevant to the context of human rights defenders and activists.

Running the Session:

Part 1 – What is Metadata?

Step 1 | Begin the session by sharing a few key points with participants – the most important of these are included below:

  • Share a definition of what metadata is, and some common places where participants might encounter it (image files, Word/Excel documents, etc.)
  • Share a few common examples of metadata (date and time of creation, location created, username or author’s name, type of device) – you may have participants locate an image or other similar file on their own computers so they can locate its metadata for themselves, or you can share some example screenshots of metadata as it appears in common file formats.
  • Explain some of the different ways that metadata is created, and how it can be changed or even removed entirely.

Metadata is often one of the more complex topics to introduce in the training process, so make sure to ask the participants if the concept is clear – if not, take time to answer their questions thoroughly and in detail based on your expertise.

Part 2 – Implications of Metadata in a Human Rights Context

Step 2 | When working with WHRDs, it is important to explain what are the pros and cons of metadata – you can succinctly describe this to participants using two key ideas:

Metadata can say a lot about you.

  • Ask participants to take a picture with their phones and to check all the metadata that the image file contains - you will need to provide them with a tool such as CameraV to do this, or you may also share a web-based tool like http://metapicz.com if your training is with a very beginner-level group.
  • Now, have participants repeat the exercise but with location services disabled on their phones. Split participants up into groups of 3-4 people (maximum) to discuss how they think metadata could be useful, and how they think it could compromise security when performing human rights work.
  • In their discussion, keeping the focus on human rights work, it is important that participants also identify under which circumstances metadata found in documents, videos or images help such content be considered as evidence in human rights documentation work. Share with them some practices - such as saving the original files on an encrypted device and creating separate copies for editing or for storing on their computers.

Metadata is created, but can also be removed.

  • Share with participants a few options, such as ObscuraCam or Metanull, for erasing metadata from videos and images. If there is enough time left for the session, you might also consider including the option of erasing metadata from documents with LibreOffice.