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Why We Should All Care about Metadata Surveillance

Last updated: March 6, 2024 8 min read
Care about Metadata Surveillance

Metadata is the footprint we leave behind on the internet highway. The more we interact with the internet, the more the footprints. With enough of these footprints, it is easier for third parties to frame a clear picture of our real-world selves, activities, and interactions. Unfortunately, this kind of information getting into the hands of hackers can spell disaster. As such, we advise using a VPN to obscure your IP address and keep the private data you share to a minimum while giving you a safe and enjoyable experience.

Metadata refers to any relevant information regarding your interactions with individuals and organizations you encounter as you utilize technology. Note that metadata only includes the information about the content of your interactions and not the actual content itself.

What Qualifies as Metadata?

  • Your phone calls, the people you call, and when.
  • Your emails, their recipients, and the time you sent them.
  • When and where you make use of your credit card.
  • The websites you visit, the computer you use, and the time you visit.

While these details seem meaningless, they can inform observers about your true self offline and online.

Metadata Types

Metadata exists in a few different categories, depending on their nature. The various types of metadata include the following:

  • Structural: Structural metadata refers to the information regarding digital data structure. This includes but not exclusively, headers, pages, and chapters.
  • Administrative: Administrative metadata is information that makes specific digital resource management much easier. This information can entail all data related to resource type and all permissions related to the content.
  • Reference: Reference metadata refers to statistical data quality, content, and nature.
  • Descriptive: Descriptive data describes digital content’s core elements and nature.
  • Statistical: Statistical Metadata, often called process data, refer to information on statistical data. It also includes the mode of data collection, processing, and production.

Online Content and Metadata

To truly gauge what online data means, we must understand it through a few factors. These include:

  • Message Metadata (Details on what was said and when): Message type, author, post date & time, versions, links (full links), location, likes, privacy settings, friends, and comments.
  • Client Metadata (Details on who collected it): Operating system, Browser, user, IP address.
  • Web Server/API Endpoint Metadata (Details on where and when it was collected): headers, HTTP, type, URL, date & time of the request, and response.
  • Account Metadata (Details on who owns it): Account owner, location, bio, and description.

While all this information might look simple and textual to you, the backend has a lot of complex information, usually represented as code.

Why is Metadata Important?

Why is Metadata Important?

Metadata, as we have established, is often dismissable information. So why is that “invisible” information so important? Even if you don’t regard metadata as important because it serves no purpose to you, it can mean a lot in the right hands or, rather, wrong hands.

Metadata, such as social media and web content, is very important in the authentication process of online content. This means that metadata is necessary for compliance and even litigation. In simpler terms, with metadata, you can ascertain the legitimacy of online content, such as posts or comments. In addition, the metadata helps inform when, where they were posted, and by whom.

Metadata is also important in regulated corporations such as the public sector or financial services. It helps to authenticate records, and FOIA/Open Records laws often govern these firms. In addition, when external auditors wish to audit said firms, they will request metadata regarding official website records for a clearer picture of the records.

In the litigated industry, metadata holds an even higher level of importance. The litigated industry refers to legal matters, and in that space, authenticity is paramount. So you can see how metadata would hold so much stock.

And as the world continues to improve technologically, information like emails, enterprise collaboration conversations, and social media comments are all too integral to litigation. For example, if either of the details mentioned above were brought up as part of “evidence,” then the court would demand that their authenticity be proven with metadata.

Hence, we maintain that Pagefreezer’s records are authentic. The data is archived securely, ensuring only authorized personnel can access it. The archive contains complete Metadata, digital signatures, and timestamps, making it generally easy for an auditor to access records for scrutiny.

Immersion: Your Email Metadata, Visualized

Email Us

Immersion is a product of the brilliant minds over at MIT Media Lab. Smikov, Jagdish, and advisor Cesar Hidalgo created the Immersion product to help us visualize email metadata. The goal is to help illustrate your relationships with people and how those connections have grown. With the Immersion product, your social media reflects real-world activities and decisions.

Immersion has created a social network map with social groupings using thousands of emails. These groups may comprise family, work colleagues, and friends, each segmented into the locations and times you may have encountered or communicated with them.

From this mapping, you can track your activities and gauge your interaction and identity and how it changes over time. However, you might wonder if someone else can read this and recognize the patterns. As you may have guessed, the answer is yes. With Metadata compiled into the Immersion software, anyone can deduce who you are, who you talk to, and where you go, eat, or live, among other details.

For some additional interesting context, we constantly ignore mountains of metadata in emails daily without knowing it. How? Your email app or webpage only shows you a quick view of your recent emails; everything else is hidden behind multiple pages. Think about how many pages hold 20 emails each, and you’d see how easy it would be for someone to access your real-world activities and interactions from your Metadata if they got their hands on it.

What Does This All Mean?

Well, for one, now our online activities have the potential to put us and those we communicate with at great risk. These online activities are the backbone of our modern life; we cannot do without them, which makes it problematic.

But it’s not all bad news; you can still protect your Metadata from those seeking to harm it. You may consider using cell phones, email addresses, or even anonymous search engines, but that still leaves you open to potential risks. They do not even reduce your metadata footprint that much; there’ll still be enough to identify you.


This is where VPNs play a vital role in protecting sensitive metadata so it can’t be used for surveillance. A top-notch VPN, like ExtremeVPN, hides your IP address and erodes your internet footprint as you journey through several web pages.

ExtremeVPN protects you from indiscriminate access to your Metadata and keeps any prying eyes from your online activity. This is important because, with your Metadata laid bare, you might encounter many consequences, even if your online activities are completely legal and safe. Knowledge is power, and as the quote states, it does not specify the nature of knowledge, so we can assume all knowledge is power. As a result, you must control how much power third parties have over you.

However, the truth is that metadata is going nowhere soon, and its power should always be underestimated. While the good sides that metadata proposes will make it much easier to enjoy the full internet experience safely, this does not discount the many risks of metadata getting into the wrong hands.

Parting Words

Metadata is everywhere; we leave a footprint with each online activity. It would be irresponsible not to take stock of how much of our personal lives litter the web space, waiting to be accessed by just about anybody.

Stay Anonymous Online and Protect Your Privacy

In the right hands, Metadata can be useful; we can solve cases, authenticate content and even save lives. But if it falls into the wrong hands, it can be catastrophic, and because of this, caution is required. Unfortunately, you cannot keep prying eyes at bay by sheer force of will, wishes, or cautious online activity. Remember, even the most innocent websites or apps log Metadata and can be accessed when you log off.

Consider using a VPN to keep it safe and private while you use the internet. We recommend ExtremeVPN because of its formidable security protocols, amazing high-end privacy features, and, most especially, protection for your Metadata.

Can Someone Easily Manipulate Metadata?

Internal Metadata is relatively easy to tweak and manipulate, but this is not true with external Metadata. In a case where the authenticity of a file is called into question, the best option would be to check the external Metadata since it remains unchanged.


How does Metadata influence data? Up
Metadata influences data such that it would be easier to properly categorize the controls necessary for assured quality and to ascertain which regulations to apply to the data.
Where does Metadata get stored? Up
Metadata usually gets stored in a digital file or any accompanying file. This depends on the size, as larger sizes require a metadata storage system like a database. The common formats for metadata storage include XML, JPEG2000, and XML.
What can you store in Metadata? Up
You can securely store descriptions of page content and keywords related to the content. This is important for search engines since they often find and display pages thanks to metadata-related information.
What makes up Metadata? Up
Metadata is made up of structural and reference Metadata. Structural Metadata makes identifying, retrieving, and navigating comprehensive data sets easy.
What are the four roles of Metadata? Up
Regulatory compliance & internal policies. Retention & archival. Privacy & security. Service levels & business requirements.

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About the Author

Samuel is a freelance journalist with over a decade's experience in the VPN industry and digital mar...
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