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Most meta data is straight-up boring: author’s name, number of revisions, date created, etc. However, this information also includes tracked changes in your document, your revision history, and deleted comments. All word processors attach meta data by default, including Microsoft Word, OpenOffice.org, and Corel WordPerfect.
The discovery of a document’s meta data could be detrimental to your case or contract negotiation. Several states have deemed the searching of meta data to be unethical. Others have placed the burden of removing such data on the document creator. Regardless of your jurisdiction’s practice, it is always better to be safe than sorry.
Fortunately, removing meta data from your documents is a piece of cake.
Cleansing documents with Word
Microsoft’s integrated Document Inspector is designed to remove meta data from Word, Powerpoint, and Excel, but it should have no problem handling OpenOffice.org or WordPerfect documents, if you open them in Word. Here’s a quick run-down on how to work this amazingly simple feature:
- Open the Office document that you want to inspect for hidden data or personal information.
- Click the Microsoft Office Button, click Save As, and save a copy of your original document. It is a good idea to use the Document Inspector on a copy of your original document because it is not always possible to restore the data that Document Inspector removes.
- In the copy of your document, click the Microsoft Office Button, point to Prepare, and then click Inspect Document.
- In the Document Inspector dialog box, select the check boxes to choose the types of hidden content that you want to look for. (Microsoft has more information about what information Document Inspector can find and remove.)
- Click Inspect.
- Review the results of the inspection in the Document Inspector dialog box.
- Click Remove All next to the inspection results for the types of hidden content that you want to remove from your document.
Cleansing documents with OpenOffice.org
OpenOffice.org works a little differently. Open Document Format (and Microsoft’s new OOXML) files are not really individual files, but many files in a compressed file (like a .zip file). If you are a Linux user, open up an .odt file with an archive manager to see what I mean. To perform the same operation in Windows, back-up your original file and then change the extension from “.odt” to .”.zip”. To delete the meta data, you will need to delete the meta.xml file.
Each time you edit an .odt file the meta.xml file is regenerated. Thus, you must remove the meta.xml file each time the .odt file is edited. Double-clicking the file will open it in your browser window so you can see exactly what meta data is attached to each document.
While removing the meta.xml file will remove most personal information from the document, it will not remove tracked changes. These recorded changes are not meta data at all, but actual data that you can view and print.
To remove this data, go to Edit > Changes > and uncheck “Record.” This will prevent OpenOffice.org from recording any changes that are made by any user. If this option is checked, you can view all changes made to the document simply by clicking Edit > Change > Show. To delete all recorded changes to your document, click Edit > Change > Accept or Reject. You will then be presented with a pop-up box that will allow you to delete any change according to author, type (insertion or deletion), date, and comment.
To ensure anonymity and prevent the dissemination of privileged information, it is best to not use the record changes feature in OpenOffice.org.
Cleansing documents with WordPerfect
To save a WordPerfect document without meta data, choose File > Save without meta data. Piece of cake. For more information on how to remove existing meta data from a WordPerfect document, read Corel’s excellent instructional article.