How to Remove Hidden Personal Data in Microsoft Office | Dramel Notes

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Every time you send a document to a colleague, you save it, you proofread it, correct any spelling and/or grammatical mistakes, and send it. It is a great habit to get into, and can certainly save time and energy down the line, if your work is consistently accurate. Editors will love you (won’t they?!). But what about the other information we might unwittingly provide when we send a document?

Microsoft Office creates and maintains a metadata file attached to your document. Each time you send it, your details are passed forward to the recipient, and anybody else that document moves forward to. This is okay in certain situations, but at other times it can be handy to clean your documents of any personal data before releasing them into the wild.

Let’s take a quick look at how to scrub your documents using the Document Inspector feature of Microsoft Office.

What Types of Information Are We Talking Here?

Microsoft Office automatically stores several types of personal information, along with some other forms of hidden data. The data isn’t immediately obvious. It isn’t displayed alongside your document; we’re going to have to root it out. Office documents can contain the following forms of information:

  • Comments, revision marks from tracked changes, versions, and ink annotations. If you’ve collaborated on your document, it is likely to contain revision marks, comments, and more from your working process. These snippets can enable other people to see who else has worked on the document, as well as the changes they have made.
  • Document properties and personal information. Document properties refer to the document metadata, such as author, subject, and title. The document properties are largely just information Office automatically generates and maintains each time you work with a document. It can also include information relating to specific features you use with a document. For instance, email headers, routing slips, printer paths, and file-path information are all common.
  • Headers, footers, and watermarks. Word documents and Excel workbooks can contain information in headers and footers. Equally, watermarks can be added and hidden.
  • Hidden text. Word documents can contain hidden text. That is, content that has been formatted as hidden text. If you’re unsure, the Document Inspector can search for it.
  • Hidden rows, columns, and worksheets. In the same sense as a Word document, Excel workbooks can contain their own hidden content.
  • Invisible content. Excel workbooks and PowerPoint presentations can contain items formatted as invisible objects. The Document Inspector can locate them for you.
  • Off-slide content. PowerPoint presentations can also contain content or objects that are not visible because they have been dragged off the side of the slide. This happens to a wide range of objects, including art, text boxes, buttons, and graphics.
  • Presentation notes. If you’re using all of the PowerPoint functions, you might add fastidiously taken notes to your presentation. You also might not want to send those onto anyone else, or have them appear during your big presentation moment.
  • Document server properties. The document may contain additional document properties if you use a Document Workspace site, or a library based on Microsoft Windows SharePoint services.
  • Custom XML data. Your document may contain hidden XML data; the Document Inspector can find and remove it.

Obviously, this is only an issue if you deem it one. The majority of individuals creating and sending documents using Microsoft Office shouldn’t have any problems with the information created alongside their work. If you do need to rid yourself of any of the aforementioned information, read on!

The Document Inspector

The Document Inspector is an amalgam of all of the different inspector services available to Microsoft Office. Their main functions are to locate and remove any additional data from your documents. Before using the Document Inspector, save your current document.

Once that’s done, head to File > Info. You’ll be presented with a screen akin to this:

On the right-hand side you can see some of the information generated by Microsoft Office: pages, amount of editing time, myself as the author. To remove this, head to Check for issues > Inspect document. You’ll then arrive at the Document Inspector options panel. Check the options you require, followed by Inspect. Depending on the size of your document, this could take a moment.

Once the Document Inspector has done its job, you’ll be able to remove any found hidden data. Look down the document list. Press Remove all on the sections you wish to clear.

Once you have cleaned the hidden information from your document, you can save it. Try reopening it and scanning again to ensure all the data has been removed. Otherwise, you should now be clear of any identifying information you may have unintentionally sent on.

N.B: In Office 2007 the Document Inspector can be found by heading to Office Button > Prepare > Inspect Document > Inspect. Make sure you save your work before making any alterations.

Can I Stop It from Happening?

Yes – but it is a document specific setting, meaning you’ll have to apply the setting to each document you create. To prevent Office from saving the metadata with each document, head to File > Options > Trust Center > Privacy Options. Under Document-specific settings, check Remove personal information from file properties on save.

As mentioned, this will stop the metadata from your current document being saved, but you will have to apply it again next time around.

Document Inspector Roundup

There are a massive number of reasons to remove personal information from an Office file, be that a PowerPoint presentation, Excel workbook, or Word document. As Office 2016 has introduced collaborative tools, it may become increasingly important to clean up our important documents before sending them.

At the very least, consider where your document might end up, and the information it is unwittingly providing to the next person.

Do you regularly scrub your documents? What’s your reason for cleaning them up? Let us know below!


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