Hidden Secrets of Metadata

Source: https://edge.alluremedia.com.au/m/l/2015/03/DataRetention.jpg

Third party surveillance on the public is a topic that has been hotly discussed in recent years, particularly after the Edward Snowden incident. The NSA states that they ONLY monitor the portion of your information called metadata. Thus, they imply that metadata is only a small chunk of your information. Let’s study this play on words when the POTUS says “we don’t listen to your phone conversations”.

Data comes from phone calls, texts, pictures, posts, messages, emails, videos, and any other electronic data online. How ironic considering how metadata can be found pretty much anywhere online, yet the NSA used very coded messaging to imply that nothing significant is hidden in them.

So one might ask, what exactly is metadata? Metadata is information that provides data on other data. I know that might give you a headache just thinking about it, but there’s more. There are types of metadata: descriptive, structural, and administrative. Descriptive metadata relates to the title, author, and keywords regarding files. An example includes a Word document entitled “Final History Paper” by John Smith. Structural refers to the order in which data is arranged, like chapters in a book. So in other words, the order of pages in said history paper. Finally, administrative refers to how and when the file was made, the type of file it is, and privacy settings. Let’s say it’s a .doc file made on 28 October 2010 and is only available to the author and the professor grading the paper.

Metadata is not fragmented or independent; all metadata amounts to the sum of the whole, meaning they are all connected to each other in some way. There is metadata in everything from your text messages, your Facebook statuses/photos/location check-ins, your credit cards, your car’s GPS, parking meters on the street, and more. Anytime, you use Uber or Lyft, metadata from your credit cards and phones gets sent to these companies. Or when you use websites like 23 and Me to find out your ethnic heritage, you’re handing over your very own DNA to these companies.

The implications behind the sheer amount of data being transferred are absolutely staggering. First and foremost, location metadata implies that any device anywhere in the world can be spotted in the blink of an eye. You’re being watched 24/7. Furthermore, if someone were to get an artificial limb, then there would be metadata assigned to that limb. Meaning flesh and machine would become virtually indistinguishable. Through modern medicine, heart rates, body temperatures, illnesses, conditions, and more can be tracked and archived; your very body is essentially owned by medical data hoarders.

The bottom line is that metadata is everywhere, in both the online AND physical realms. Though we may find convenience in the plethora of data to call and message our friends and family, look for directions to that new brew house that just opened, or get rides through Uber or Lyft, we in turn sacrifice a bit of our personal privacy one Facebook message or Google Search at a time. Is the presence of metadata making our world a better place or are we becoming slaves to the very technology we created? The question remains, and in time, the answers will be revealed.

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