Imagine you’re working on a proposal to another company. You write it in Word, you send it to your associates, your boss your boss’s boss. They all make additions, cuts, comments. They paste in copy from other documents. Perhaps the information is confidential. Perhaps someone pastes in some recent sales data from Excel. Any scenario you choose, where multiple people are working on a document that includes some information you don’t necessarily want your competitors to know.
If you’re using Word’s Change Tracking feature (even if you’re not in more recent versions), Word is recording everything. Every user, every hard drive path, every bit of copy cut and pasted. If you’re using Word in its most vanilla way, you are loading a document with all kinds of data you may not realize – data you really don’t want to share.
Case in point from a few years ago – the infamous Downing St. Memo of Tony Blair. Turns out high-level British officials didn’t understand about metadata. Too bad, because as this report from computer expert Richard Smith shows, the document was basically plagiarized from a published paper, and anyone could track exactly who touched the doc. It even shows when it copied off to floppy disk to give to Colin Powell.
Don’t want that to happen to you? Well you could follow the instructions from Microsoft. That doesn’t look too fun, does it? Another option is to save as PDF. (But PDF also contains metadata.) Finally, there are some software option for excising everything but text and formatting.
We’ll look deeper into this issue and the workarounds shortly.