6 July 2017
You probably don’t often think about the metadata trail you’re leaving behind when going about your daily business, but most of us create one every single day, often without even realising it, as we name files, write the subject lines of emails, or tag a YouTube video.
In case you didn’t know, metadata is data that provides information about other data, and there are three distinct types of metadata – descriptive metadata, structural metadata and administrative metadata. So whether it’s our homes, networks and devices generating data, or our cars, payment systems or even cities generating data through us and about us, it’s clear that increasingly everything we do generates data.
“Metadata equals surveillance; it’s that simple.” Bruce Schneier - American cryptographer, computer security professional, privacy specialist and writer.
While all this data can be used to our benefit – creating a fairer, cleaner and more sustainable environment for us to live in, there is a call for stronger regulations to guard against exploitation of our data. Many believe that an individual must have control over his or her data, how it is collected, generated and used. Without appropriate protections, we can be tracked and profiled on an almost continual basis.
Companies and governments collect and store metadata that can reveal an awful lot about you, with this metadata revealing more about you than the content of the original communications.
Metadata creates a picture of our patterns of behaviour, interactions and viewpoints, revealing much more about us than the content of our phone calls or emails ever could.
Documents released by whistle-blower Edward Snowdon proved that governments are actively seeking our metadata – metadata that always tells the truth and is constantly being generated.
Managing data about you that you didn’t create yourself is an obvious challenge, as this ‘data exhaust’ is relentless. The word ‘exhaust’ captures perfectly how this data is the by-product of other processes. So unless you decide to become a hermit and drop out of the modern world all together, every time you go online this ‘exhaust’ is produced and collected by others.
We need to learn to check and correct data that services maintain about us. For example, Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are based around users’ profiles, so this is pretty simple to check and edit, whilst other service providers have data management policies that allow you to obtain all of the data they hold about you and correct any inaccurate data. And it’s long been advised that we check our credit reports annually.
So while it’s impossible to access and control all of the metadata created about ourselves, we should try to take ownership of as much of it as we can to guard against exploitation.
With the growing amount of data collected about us showing no sign of relenting, the importance of responsible computer recycling has never been more vital, if you want to play your part in reducing potentially health and environmentally-harming e-waste, as well as keeping your data secure. So if your company is one that is committed to the ethical recycling of its obsolete computers and technology products, make sure secure and environmentally friendly computer recycling that adheres to proper recycling regulations is part of your consideration. It’s also important to be aware that companies are now legally obliged to safely dispose of potentially sensitive information in accordance with current security laws and the Data Protection Act of 1998. Be sure only to use a computer recycling company that operates in accordance with, and preferably exceeds all government guidelines such as the WEEE Directive and the Data Protection Act.