Guest post by David Haynes, author of Metadata for Information Management and Retrieval, 2nd edition: Understanding metadata and its use
Use of metadata by the security services
“Metadata tells you everything about somebody’s life. If you have enough metadata you don’t really need content” (Schneier 2015, p.23)
If anyone wondered about the importance of metadata, this quote by Stuart Baker of the US National Security Agency should leave no-one in any doubt. The Snowden revelations about the routine gathering of metadata about international telephone calls to or from the United States continues to have repercussions today (Greenwald 2013). Indeed Privacy International (2017) has identified the following types of metadata that is gathered or could be gathered by security agencies:
- Device used
- Length of call
“Metadata in aggregate is content” as Jacob Appelbaum observed when the Wikileaks controversy first blew up (Democracy Now 2013). In other words when metadata from different sources is aggregated it can be used to reconstruct the information content of individual communications.
Invasion of privacy or personal benefit?
These concerns extend well beyond the use of metadata by Governments and the security services. The social media giants prosper by exploiting personal data and targeting digital advertising. Personal profiles of targeted individuals are based on metadata about online use and are the basis of online behavioural advertising. Cookies and other tracking technologies can monitor the online activity of an individual to predict future behaviour. Metadata about online sessions reveals a great deal about an individual and his or her life. This may extend to gathering information about friends, family, colleagues and other contacts.
The upside of this is that metadata is a powerful tool to facilitate use of online services, by remembering users’ preferences and delivering content that is more likely to be of interest or relevance to them. This has to be balanced against the risks associated with online disclosure of personal data.
Metadata describes an information object whether that be raw data or more descriptive information about an individual. This is important because the treatment of metadata has become a political issue. Personal data, especially data that reveals opinions, attitudes and beliefs is potentially very sensitive. Use of this personal data by service providers or by third parties can expose users to risks such as nuisance from unwanted ads, harassment from internet trolls or fraud through identity theft, if the data is not held or transmitted security. Many digital advertisers would say that because the data is aggregated it is not possible to identify individuals – i.e. the data is anonymised. However this is no protection against privacy breaches as has been demonstrated by Narayanan and Shmatikov (2009) and others.
Daniel Rosenberg (2013) makes a nice distinction between data, facts and evidence. Data if true may be a fact, but if false ceases to be a fact. Samuel Arbesman (2012) in his book ‘The Half Life of Facts’ introduced the idea that in a given period half the certainties that we had are shown to be false or are superceded by new understandings and that they cease to be ‘facts’. Data, whether it is true or not, continues to be data, but is only factual if true. Perhaps there is some way of recording the reliability of information or data so that it can be exploited appropriately. Many of the arguments and counter-arguments on climate change for instance centre on the quality and veracity of the evidence used by each side of the debate. This idea is not new, as medical researchers have for some time evaluated the quality of research used to make clinical decisions. This information about the quality and reliability of data is metadata.
Metadata is political
Metadata has become a political issue because of its use by security agencies and because of wider privacy issues in the commercial world. Anyone who had asked the question ‘What does metadata matter?’ prior to 2013 will realise just how important a bearing it has on current political issues. The Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution protects ‘The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures’ (United States 1791). A lot hangs on the interpretation of privacy as Solove (2011) has so eloquently discussed in his book ‘Nothing to Hide’. ‘Fake news’ is not new, but the phenomenon has reared its head in recent elections and is unlikely to go away any time soon. Good governance also depends on a good understanding of metadata and accountability for past actions.
Metadata for information management and retrieval
In the new edition of Metadata for Information Management and Retrieval, published in January 2018 I consider the origins of metadata and look at the ways in which it is used for managing information resources. The ethical dimensions of metadata are explored and issues such as governance, privacy, security and human rights are considered. The book also discusses the digital divide and the potential that metadata has for making information accessible to wider audiences.
Metadata has an important role in politics and ethics. How then do we manage it to best effect?
Haynes, D (2018) Metadata for Information Management and Retrieval: understanding metadata and its use. ISBN 9781856048248. Facet Publishing. London, 2018, 267pp. http://www.facetpublishing.co.uk/title.php?id=048248
You can follow David on Twitter @JDavidHaynes
Arbesman, S., 2012. The half-life of facts : why everything we know has an expiration date,
Democracy Now, 2013. Court: Gov’t Can Secretly Obtain Email, Twitter Info from Ex-WikiLeaks Volunteer Jacob Appelbaum. Available at: https://www.democracynow.org/2013/2/5/court_govt_can_secretly_obtain_email [Accessed March 21, 2017].
Greenwald, G., 2013. NSA Collecting Phone Records of Millions of Verizon Customers Daily. The Guardian. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/06/nsa-phone-records-verizon-court-order [Accessed July 7, 2014].
Narayanan, A. & Shmatikov, V., 2009. De-anonymizing Social Networks. In 2009 30th IEEE Symposium on Security and Privacy. IEEE, pp. 173–187.
Privacy International, 2017. Privacy 101. Metadata. Available at: https://www.privacyinternational.org/node/53 [Accessed March 23, 2017].
Rosenberg, D., 2013. Data before the Fact. In L. Gitelman, ed. “Raw Data” is an Oxymoron. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, pp. 15–40.
Schneier, B., 2015. Data and Goliath: the hidden battles to collect your data and control your world, New York, NY: W.W.Norton.
Solove, D.J., 2011. Nothing to Hide: the false tradeoff between privacy and security, New Haven, CT: Yale University Press.
United States, 1791. U.S. Constitution Amendment IV, United States.
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David Haynes has fully revised his classic metadata textbook to bring it up to date with new technologies and standards. It builds on the concept of metadata through an exploration of its purposes and uses as well as considering the main aspects of metadata management and includes brand new chapters on ‘Very Large Data Collections’ and the ‘Politics and Ethics of Metadata’.
‘Metadata of Information Management and Retrieval: Understanding metadata and its use is international in coverage and sets out to introduce the concepts behind metadata. It focuses on the ways metadata is used to manage and retrieve information. It discusses the roles of metadata in information governance as well as exploring its use in the context of social media, linked open data and big data’.
The book will be essential reading for students of library and information science, museums, library, archives and records management professionals, publishers and managers of institutional repositories and research data sets.
Neil Wilson, Head of Collection Metadata at The British Library said,
‘Metadata has evolved from being a specialist interest to become a mainstream topic of relevance to anyone concerned with accurate and efficient information management. David Haynes has produced a clear, comprehensive and timely overview of how metadata shapes our digital age, why it’s a key organisational asset and how its value can be released through the use of key standards and technologies.’
About the author
David Haynes PhD MBCS FCLIP conducts research into Privacy and Metadata at the Department of Library and Information Science at City, University of London. He is also an Honorary Tutor at the Centre for Archives and Information Studies (CAIS) at the University of Dundee where he specialises in Metadata and Taxonomies. He has been involved in library and information consultancy and research for more than 35 years during which time he has worked on information retrieval, information policy and information governance issues, latterly specialising in privacy and data protection. He is Chair of the UK Chapter of ISKO, the International Society for Knowledge Organization.
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Today Marcia Lei Zeng and Jian Qin are presenting a paper at iConference 2017 in Wuhan, China. We have made a sample chapter from their co-authored book, Metadata, freely available to view and download from the Facet website.
The chapter provides a context for metadata uses in our life and work and a brief history of the metadata movement. It reviews fundamental concepts, including metadata types, categories of metadata standards, and metadata principles. Finally, it presents additional examples of metadata descriptions.
The second edition of Zeng & Qin’s Metadata provides a solid grounding in the variety and interrelationships among different metadata types, offers a comprehensive look at the metadata schemas that exist in the world of library and information science and beyond, as well as the contexts in which they operate.
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New from Facet Publishing: Managing Metadata in Web-scale Discovery Systems edited by Louise F. Spiteri, Dalhousie University.
Libraries are increasingly using web-scale discovery systems to help clients find a wide assortment of library materials, including books, journal articles, special collections, archival collections, videos, music and open access collections. Depending on the library material catalogued, the discovery system might need to negotiate different metadata standards, such as AACR, RDA, RAD, FOAF, VRA Core, METS, MODS, RDF and more.
With this new book, you can harness the power of linked data and web-scale discovery systems to manage and link widely varied content across your library collection.
Editor Louise Spiteri and a range of international experts show you how to:
- maximize the effectiveness of web-scale discovery systems
- provide a smooth and seamless discovery experience to your users
- help users conduct searches that yield relevant results
- manage the sheer volume of items to which you can provide access, so your users can actually find what they need
- maintain shared records that reflect the needs, languages, and identities of culturally and ethnically varied communities
- manage metadata both within, across, and outside, library discovery tools by converting your library metadata to linked open data that all systems can access
- manage user generated metadata from external services such as Goodreads and LibraryThing
- mine user generated metadata to better serve your users in areas such as collection development or readers’ advisory.
The book will be essential reading for cataloguers, technical services and systems librarians and library and information science students studying modules on metadata, cataloguing, systems design, data management, and digital libraries. It will also be of interest to those managing metadata in archives, museums and other cultural heritage institutions.
Metadata remains the solution for describing the explosively growing, complex world of digital information, and continues to be of paramount importance for information professionals. Providing a solid grounding in the variety and interrelationships among different metadata types, Zeng and Qin’s thorough revision of their benchmark text offers a comprehensive look at the metadata schemas that exist in the world of library and information science and beyond, as well as the contexts in which they operate.
Cementing its value as both an LIS text a
nd a handy reference for professionals already in the field, the book:
- Lays out the fundamentals of metadata, including principles of metadata, structures of metadata vocabularies, and metadata descriptions
- Surveys metadata standards and their applications in distinct domains and for various communities of metadata practice
- Examines metadata building blocks, from modelling to defining properties, and from designing application profiles to implementing value vocabularies
- Describes important concepts as resource identification, metadata as linked data, consumption of metadata, interoperability, and quality measurement
- Offers an updated glossary to help readers navigate metadata’s complex terms in easy-to-understand definitions.
HEA-ICS described the first edition as “An excellent textbook on metadata for learning and teaching” and the Journal of Documentation said, “this book is to be recommended without hesitation…it deserves a wide audience”.
The book is the ideal guide to metadata for both students and working information professionals globally and is augmented with an online resource of web extras, packed with exercises, quizzes, and links to additional materials.