Every file and folder on your computer possesses digital DNA – file format, creation date, author, modification date, descriptive tags, etc. These inner attributes follow a file and folder. It doesn’t matter where it moves on your system, or whether it’s copied and forwarded elsewhere — those attributes are coming along with it.
The attributes are stored in each file or folder’s Property Manager; that can be accessed by right-clicking on the file name or its icon. Most of time we have no need to examine a file or folder’s properties. But when viewing or editing attributes are required –be it for security or personal reasons– that’s when we need to be our own property manager.
Metadata: Exploring the Inner Workings of Files
If Groucho Marx was to jokingly refer to metadata he would probably exclaim “I never metadata I didn’t like,” or something like that. But seriously, metadata is usually defined as the data that provides information about other data. In other words metadata is the instruction manual that tells a computer what’s up with a particular file.
When security cops are called in to examine, say, a politician’s deleted emails, they can actually glean the origins of the message, when it was transmitted, and its contents from the file’s metadata. Similarly we can often see and manipulate the files and folders on our computers by examining their Properties. And like those deleted emails, your files’ metadata (live or deleted) can sometimes expose your privacy. And for many of those files—photos, text, videos, audio tracks–you can edit that metadata of personal elements.
Let’s take a look at the Properties of various file formats – documents, images, and video/audio – to see what is stored there and how to change the data, if so desired. Examining the files themselves by right-clicking and choosing Properties is the same in Windows 7, 8, and 10. Viewed from Windows Explorer, there are a few surface differences which I will also point out.
Use Properties to Follow the Life of Documents
Legendary screen siren Mae West once said, “Keep a diary, dearie and someday it will keep you.” In digital terms the Properties of a document are its diary and the minute details and history of the document are saved here. In Windows Explorer, find your document file and right-click on it.
The first screen you will see lands on the General tab. There are two buttons for customization to note here. The first labeled Change is to the right of Open with: allows you to switch the application used to open this file format. For example, if you don’t like the app Windows defaults for playing videos, you can switch to another. In this case, I changed to Videolan’s VLC Player. The second button appears at the bottom of the General tab window and is labeled Unblock. This is handy if the files was downloaded from the Internet. For security Windows blocks making changes to Properties until you click Unblock.
The real nitty-gritty of file info is found on the Details tab. From the Properties window, select the Details tab. Here before you is the author or authors of the doc, the version number, the application used to create it and the times it was created and since revised, when it was last printed, and total editing time.
By default Windows allows users the ability to add, delete, and edit various Properties. In Figure 1, I was able to enter notes in each field under Description. But in the fields below under Origin most are locked except for the Author field where I could not delete my name but could add additional authors.
To actually know what fields in Properties are able to be modified, just double-click on each line. Ones that allow changes will pop open with a fillable space.
By clicking on the Security tab in Properties you can change the permissions tor reading, writing, and modifying both Properties and the document itself. Click the Edit button to execute changes to Permissions and then check or uncheck each function box. That way you can control what other authors or readers can do with the document.
Scrolling farther down on the Details tab reveals more details about the work that went into the document, right down to the number of keystrokes and words. Again, here some fields allow for data entry of notes or comments and a double-click on each will reveal that possibility.
Photo Properties Tell Who Took the Shot and How
While the Properties window for photo files is the same as revealed for documents, the fields are adjusted for the different components inherent in photo images. Image dimensions, width, height, copyright, camera model, exposure time, F-stop, and all the other characteristics of how a photo was shot – the entire DNA – are listed in a photo’s properties.
Notice now the copyright line was changed in Figures2 and 3 from Brent Winebrenner to John Q. Public. Because this field was left unlocked it allowed me to change the photographer’s name. Although this was done merely to demonstrate how Properties information can be altered and will not be saved, it does reveal how valuable file information can be altered. If a photo was, say, to be used as evidence in a court case, changes like this as well as in date taken and location fields could change ultimate verdicts. That’s one reason it is important to use the editing control offered under the Security tab.
Adding tags can be useful for notes, subject classification, or other credits. Curiously, you cannot add tags or ratings to some file formats such as BMP, PNG, AVI, or MPG. Go figure. Add a semicolon after each tag you want to enter.
Video file properties work much like those for images. The only difference is that elements unique to a video are included in the Details, such as running time, frames per second, mono or stereo, etc.
Remove Properties Option Erases Your ‘Fingerprints’
On every Details window there is a blue colored link at the bottom: Remove Properties and Personal Information. Click it and you will see a popup window with two buttons. By default the Create a copy with all possible properties removed is checked. Click okay to save a copy of the file, be it document, image, or other format, and all the file’s details will be deleted. Privacy is now protected.
The other option, Remove the following properties from this file, let you cherry pick the particular properties to be eliminated. A new file is not created but the current file is saved with only the elements you want to remain in the future.
Using the Ribbon View in Windows Explorer 10
Starting with Windows 8, Windows Explorer appeared with the Ribbon menu interface. It provides more information about folders and files than the previous, flat view Windows Explorer had in Windows 7.
While you can still right-click file icons to see the Properties windows – and I think that is still the most convenient option –the Ribbon now has Properties as a choice. By clicking Properties from the Ribbon, the highlighted file’s Properties window will open.
But if you click on the down arrow on Properties on the Ribbon, you will reveal Remove properties which proves to be shortcut to the Remove properties window that saves two additional clicks required if you reach Properties by the standard right-click method.
Lasky, Michael. “The Secret Life of Files: How to Master File & Folder Properties” Windows Secrets March 2017