Metadata

What is Metadata? (Definition, Types, & Uses)

Your metadata can provide third parties with a lot of personal information, such as your IP address, upload and download volume, and connection details. Scary, right? However, if you’re unfamiliar with the term, fret not! This article will discuss the nitty-gritty about metadata and why you need to protect it as a netizen:

What is Metadata, Exactly?

Metadata is defined as information about other data. In simple words, its information that summarizes the data contained in web pages, files, documents, etc. Metadata can also be thought of as a description or explanation of what the data is, making it easier to find and work with specific instances of data.

Metadata is useful for cataloging and sorting things. This improves the accuracy and efficiency of many processes across the world. Metadata is ubiquitous in various industries like online retailing, information systems, music services, social media, and websites.

What Are the Three Types of Metadata?

According to Wikipedia, the three main metadata types are:

  • Descriptive – Descriptive metadata is used for purposes like identification and discovery as it includes information describing the source such as title, author, keywords, and subjects.
  • Structural – Structural metadata outlines how different objects have been organized or put together. For example, the way pages are ordered to form a book’s chapters.
  • Administrative – Administrative metadata provides technical information related to the management of the source, such as file type and how and when it was created.

Who Uses Metadata?

Metadata is utilized in nearly all walks of life, including, but not limited to:

    • Digital Marketers – With your browsing metadata, marketers can determine whether you fall into their target demographic for advertisements. While metadata might not show them what you’re up to on a book review forum, the fact that you spend time there is an indication that you’re a good target for bookstore-related ads.
    • Surveillance Agencies – The websites you access and apps you use can give them an insight into your leanings. Also, having knowledge of whether or not you visited politically sensitive websites can be used against you. The possibilities are endless!
    • Graphic Designers – If you have a catalog of photographs, advertisement designs, art, and so on, metadata enables you to use a machine to sort it by location, date, author, size, or virtually any other criteria.
    • Search Engines – Besides the text which shows up when you visit a page, there are pieces of data behind the scenes that describe it to search engines. Tags like subject, author, and data make it possible for Google to decide whether the page is as relevant to you as possible.

    Metadata

    What Are Some Examples of Metadata?

    So, what does metadata look like? Let’s check out at a few examples:

    Photos

    When you take a photo with your camera, a variety of metadata is collected and stored along with it:

    • File name
    • Camera settings
    • Geolocation
    • Date and time

    Blog Posts

    Blogs have standard metadata fields that are typically displayed before the introduction, such as:

    • Author
    • Date of publishing
    • Title
    • Tags
    • Category

    Word Documents

    All word processing software gathers some standard metadata for each document and allows users to add their own fields as well. Some common ones are:

    • Creation date & time
    • Title
    • Company
    • Number of pages
    • Word count
    • Status
    • Subject

    Books

    Every book features a number of standard metadata both on the inside and outside. This includes:

    • Title
    • Author
    • Copyright and publisher details
    • Index
    • Table of contents
    • Page numbers

    What is the Role of Metadata in Browsing?

    Whenever you connect to the Internet, all your traffic and communications go through servers operated by your Internet Service Provider (ISP). This means they can monitor and log just about everything you do online. A good example is Australia’s data retention law, which has been considered one of the most intrusive data collection schemes in the world.

    According to the legislation, ISPs and telcos are officially required to gather metadata on their customer’s communications. This includes:

    • Name, physical address, date of birth, as well as other identifying details of the account holder
    • The mode of communication (like social media, voice, forum, email, and chat)
    • The device’s location at the start and end of the communication
    • Information about the recipient of the communication
    • The type of service used for the communication (like cable, ADSL, VoIP, and Wi-Fi).

    You’ve got to admit, that’s a lot of information considering it takes considerably less to construct a person’s profile.

    Why Does Metadata Matter?

    Your ISP has access to a wealth of data about you. It knows which websites you visited in the past, the order in which they were visited, the amount of time you spent on them, and more. With these details available, ISPs are able to paint an accurate portrait of your life.

    Metadata is also sought after by advertisers and governments. Though it isn’t as sensitive or difficult to acquire as real data (such as your email’s contents), it allows them to build a profile of you for advertising and surveillance purposes.

    How to Hide Your Metadata with a VPN

    If you’re concerned about your Internet privacy, you should protect your metadata, and the easiest way to do so is by getting a VPN. Once connected, all the data to and from your device is safeguarded using bank-grade encryption.

    As a result, your ISP can’t tell what you’re doing online. They’ll only be able to tell that you’re using a VPN on your device, but that’s about it. The result? No ISP monitoring, no government surveillance, and no targeted advertisements!

    Just follow these simple steps to hide your metadata:

    1. Grab a PureVPN subscription.
    2. Download and install the app for your device.
    3. Open it and connect to a VPN server in another country.
    4. Browse with privacy!

    No-Log VPN: What is it?

    The VPN you choose should have a tried and tested no-logs policy (like PureVPN), which means they don’t store logs pertaining to your online activities.

    When your encrypted data makes its way to the VPN server, it’s decrypted to be sent to your intended destination. This is where the VPN service can collect your information.

    Let’s face it – there’s no point in using a VPN to keep your metadata safe if the VPN itself stores connection or activity logs.

    Final Word

    Metadata might seem like a difficult subject to understand, but hopefully this article has provided some enlightenment. This “data about data” allows third-parties to create a detailed profile on you even without having access to your messages or emails. Fortunately, you can enjoy top-of-the-line privacy protection by using a VPN.

Haris Shahid Haris Shahid has a genuine passion in covering the latest happenings in the cyber security, privacy, and digital landscape. He likes getting out and about, but mostly ends up spending too much of his time behind a computer keyboard. He tweets at @harisshahid01

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