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How to Remove The Hidden Personal Information Microsoft Office Adds to Your Documents

private-information-hidden-in-office-documents

Microsoft Office saves hidden metadata in your Office documents, including how long you’ve been working on them, the name of everyone who’s worked on the document, when the document was created, and even previous versions of the document.

Before you publish Office documents publicly or send them to someone, you’ll probably want to check what hidden information the document contains and remove the sensitive data. This metadata can infringe on your privacy or be potentially embarrassing.

View and Remove Hidden Data

On Office 2013 or Office 2010, click the File menu, click Info and the Inspect Document tool will be front-and-center, informing you about the potentially sensitive information that the document contains. This information is more obvious than it is in older versions of Office, but it’s still easy to miss if you’re not aware Office adds this sensitive data to your documents.

On Office 2007, click the Office orb button on the ribbon, point to Prepare, and click Inspect Document.

office-2013-inspect-document-hidden-personal-metadata[4]

To view the hidden metadata in the document, click the Check for Issues button, click Inspect Document, and choose the types of metadata you want to examine the document for. You can just leave all the options selected to examine the document for all types of metadata.

view-metadata-with-document-inspector

Click Inspect and Office will examine the document for metadata. Click the Remove All button next to a type of metadata to remove it.

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Note that you won’t be able to recover most of this metadata after deleting it. For this reason, Microsoft recommends creating a new copy of the document (use the Save As feature) before removing the metadata and publishing the document. You’ll then have a copy of the document with the metadata. Of course, if you don’t want this metadata at all, you can just remove it without worrying about preserving a copy.

What Type of Metadata Does Office Save?

Office saves document properties including details like the author, subject, title, the date you created a document, when you last modified it, and how long you spent working on the document. These properties will also contain the name of any template you used while creating the document, email headers, and other related information. This can potentially be embarrassing — for example, you may send a TPS report to your boss and say you spent all day working on it alone. But the metadata could reveal tht you only worked on the TPS report for a few minutes, collaborated with other people, and that you used a template named “Useless TPS Report Template” when creating it. Worse yet, there are other privacy implications here — you may want to publish a document on the web without your name associated with it, but your name will appear in the document’s properties by default.

Headers, footers, watermark, and text formatted as hidden text could also be included, but won’t appear if you do a cursory skim of the document. The tool tells you whether your document contains this information.

If you collaborated with other people while writing the document, it will contain even more data. The metadata will display the names of everyone who worked on the document as well as any comments, revision marks, ink annotations, and previous versions of the document. If you’re publishing a document you worked on, you’ll probably want to remove all this data rather than sharing it.

view-document-properties-in-word-2013-info-pane

How to Stop Office From Saving Metadata

Unfortunately, you’ll have to use the Document Inspector tool to remove sensitive data from each individual document before you publish or share it with someone. There’s no built-in way to remove this information from multiple documents at once, nor is there an Office-wide setting to prevent Office from applying this data to documents.

However, you can have Office automatically remove the metadata every time you save a file. You must apply this setting to each document you use — it’s a document-specific setting, not a system-wide setting.

To prevent Office from saving metadata along with your documents, click the File menu, click Options, and select the Trust Center category. Click the Trust Center Settings button and select Privacy Options.¬†Enable the “Remove personal information from file properties on save” option. If it appears grayed out, click the Document Inspector button below, run the Document Inspector, and remove all the document’s personal information. You should then be able to click the checkbox.

Remember, you’ll have to change this option this for each document separately.

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This information can be useful, and some of it is even crucial for collaboration or for corporations to keep track of who worked on a document. But when it’s time to publish the document, you’ll probably want to remove this metadata.

Chris Hoffman is a technology writer and all-around computer geek. He's as at home using the Linux terminal as he is digging into the Windows registry. Connect with him on Google+.

  • Published 01/30/14

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