Metadata: How to Safeguard Your Privacy
By Yuki Fang
August 10, 2022
Metadata is structured reference data that organizes data and makes it more accessible, manageable, and discoverable. In other words, metadata is a shorthand reference to data; typical metadata elements include titles, tags, categories, time and location of data creation, etc.
There are three main types of metadata:
- Descriptive metadata identifies descriptive information about data that enables the identification, discovery, and selection of resources. Examples include titles, authors, subjects, etc.
- Administrative metadata helps manage data through holding information such as resource type, permissions, data and time of data creation, etc.
- Structural metadata defines the types, versions, relationships ,and other data characteristics. This is generally used in machine processing.
Metadata can be inputted both manually and automatically, with the former allowing more precision and the latter more efficiency. Metadata’s importance grows increasingly as the modern world becomes more digitally dependent.
Data VS Metadata: What is the Difference?
Although data and metadata may seem very similar, there are important distinctions between the two. Data is any form of information that can be raw and unprocessed and thus requires the proper collection, organization, and manipulation for effective future use. Metadata, the data about data, acts as a tool for managing and operating on unorganized data. By providing description and structure for data, metadata increases accuracy in fetching information from a vast data pool. This makes the data-utilization process much more time and energy-efficient.
To visually differentiate between the two, consider the example graphics below:
This relational database, for instance, provides access to both metadata and data through a data dictionary, a collection of names, definitions, and attributes about data elements being used or captured in a database.
These computer files also help illustrate the differences between metadata and data. While data are the contents within each file, each file acts as a metadata, holding the file name, data and time of file creation, type and size of data, etc.
Why Protecting your Metadata Is Equally Important
To answer these questions, we must recall the idea that unorganized data is relatively meaningless and holds no real value. When unorganized data is combined with metadata, it turns into fruitful, accessible information that allows businesses to recognize trends and patterns, identify problems, and make important future decisions. It can thus be argued that metadata protection is as crucial or even more significant than data protection.
Failure to effectively utilize and operate data can lead to countless missed business opportunities, massive business inefficiencies, and thus significant revenue losses. According to the 2019 Veritas Report, organizations lose over $2 million a year due to data mismanagement. On average, employees lose two hours a day searching for data, resulting in a 16 percent drop in workforce efficiency. if businesses do not invest in metadata and other forms of data management, the resulting inefficiency may hinder the companies’ success, revenues, and reputation.
How Can You Protect Your Data and Metadata?
Metadata, as a vital piece of one’s online presence, must be protected to avoid exploitation or manipulation by third parties such as online marketers, hackers, and government agencies. There are many methods to secure one’s metadata and data, such as
- Using resources such as humanID: humanID is an example of a comprehensive cybersecurity solution that can help ensure companies’ and their customers’ well-being and safety through one-click, anonymous authentication solutions that provide a safer online experience by guaranteeing user privacy and comprehensive data protection.
- Using a Virtual Private Network (VPN) service: Through using a VPN service, one’s data and metadata are both encrypted. This prevents one’s Internet Service Provider (ISP) from accessing private data. A VPN service can also protect one’s online presence by cloaking their IP address.
- Using security-focused apps and browsers: Security-focused apps and browsers such as the TOR system allow for anonymous communication. This means there is less likelihood of unwanted metadata theft or data exploitation by third parties.