Best Metadata Removal Tools & Everything You Need to Know about Metadata

Metadata is basically data about data, so for example, the actual contents of an email is not metadata, but who you emailed, what time, the subject, and the size of the email are. Metadata is basically everything except the actual content or data. Here are …

Metadata is basically data about data, so for example, the actual contents of an email is not metadata, but who you emailed, what time, the subject, and the size of the email are.

Metadata is basically everything except the actual content or data. Here are a few examples of what metadata looks like:

  • the subject line of your emails
  • the sender’s identity
  • the receiver’s identity
  • the length of conversation
  • the IP address
  • your location when communicating

On the surface this may not seem very revealing, however, metadata has the potential to be just as revealing as content itself, and protecting it actually is just as important as the actual data.

How revealing is metadata?

An explainer by EFF has some pretty good examples on how revealing the metadata can be:

  • They know you rang a phone sex line at 2:24 am and spoke for 18 minutes. But they don’t know what you talked about.
  • They know you called the suicide prevention hotline from the Golden Gate Bridge. But the topic of the call remains a secret.
  • They know you got an email from an HIV testing service, then called your doctor, then visited an HIV support group website in the same hour. But they don’t know what was in the email or what you talked about on the phone.

Yup, that’s a bit disturbing, isn’t it? And therefore should be protected just as much as the actual data.

Metadata is usually important to perform regular tasks for example, the email service providers need the receiver and senders email address, the web browser need IP address to connect to the website you want.

How to Deal with Metadata?

Dealing with metadata can be tricky as any and all digital action will create some metadata, there’s basically two things you can do to prevent misuse of your metadata:

  • Minimize the metadata
  • Encrypt the metadata

Consider switching to apps and services that don’t require that much metadata and even if they do, they encrypt it while in transit so that no one can eavesdrop, our privacy tools guide has a lot of recommendations on just that.

It’s all about being mindful of what metadata may be created by the action you’re about to take, and then determine how to best reduce or mitigate it by doing things like:

  • turning off location tracking on your devices
  • removing metadata before sharing files, photos, etc

Another approach is to just fake your metadata when possible, by using a VPN, the Tor browser, or by changing the user agent of your browser.

Metadata Removal Tools

Here are some metadata removal tools that I recommend and use:

mat2

mat2 is a metadata removal tool, supporting a wide range of commonly used file formats, written in python3: at its core, it’s a library, used by an eponymous command-line interface, as well as several file manager extensions.

It provides a command line tool, and graphical user interfaces via a service menu for Dolphin, the default file manager of KDE, and an extension for Nautilus, the default file manager of GNOME.

mat2 doesn’t clean files in-place, but will produce, for example, with a file named “myfile.png” a cleaned version named “myfile.cleaned.png”, it comes preinstalled with Tails, and there’s a web version available too at: https://matweb.info

ExifCleaner

ExifCleaner is a free and open-source app that uses ExifTool to remove exif metadata from images, videos, and PDF documents using a simple drag and drop interface. It supports multicore batch processing and dark mode.

It removes the metadata from the original file, rather than creating a new cleaned file, and is available for Windows, macOS, and Linux.

Note: These metadata removal tools only remove metadata from your files, it does not anonymize the content, nor can it handle watermarking, steganography, or any too custom metadata field/system.

For extreme privacy, use file formats that do not contain any metadata, or better just use plain-text.

Additional Resources

That’s all folks!

I will be updating this page frequently with more metadata removal tools and information. You should check out our privacy tools page for more information.

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