Moving at the Speed of Creativity by Wesley Fryer

Digital Footprints Can Include PDF Authorship Details

Your “digital footprint” online can include many different kinds of digital activities. These can not only include updates to social networking sites like Facebook and Twitter, photos posted and “tagged” online, and websites authored by you, but also DOCUMENTS you author which are posted online. These documents can include hidden “evidence” you created a document, even if your name does not appear in the printable version. The image below shows an example, from the “3R Agenda Booklet” (a PDF file) linked from the homepage of the Oklahoma State Department of Education. In viewing the PDF file information (in the Mac OS X application “Preview”) anyone can see this document was created by Damon Gardenhire.

Example of PDF file information

Damon’s name does not appear anywhere in the printable / most easily visible version of the document, but it is readily viewable to anyone viewing “more information” about the file after downloading it. This kind of meta information is inserted automatically into PDF documents when they are created with different software programs. Default information can be changed if desired, or left blank, but if action is not taken it’s generally added automatically.

One example of a former public official who may have unknowingly left his “digital footprints” on a PDF document he created is highlighted in Anne Landman’s recent post, “Consider the Source: MacIver News Service.” Landman highlighted a document created by “convicted former Wisconsin State Assembly Speaker Scott Jensen” on the nonprofit “John K. MacIver Institute for Public Policy” website. She wrote:

Cory Liebman, who writes for the Eye on Wisconsin Web site, discovered that Jensen writes press releases for the MacIver Institute, even though his name doesn’t appear on them. Jensen’s authorship of the releases, Liebman points out, can be discovered by accessing a PDF copy of some of the organization’s press releases online, right-clicking on them and observing the document’s properties, e.g. “Author:Scott Jensen.” Jensen also authored a PowerPoint presentation on the MacIver Institute’s web site.

Beware of your digital footprint! You may be disclosing your digital activities to others through hidden meta information included in PDF files you create on your computer.

Footprint in the sand

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