Metadata is information generated as you use technology, and its use has been the subject of controversy since NSA’s secret surveillance program was revealed. Examples include the date and time you called somebody or the location from which you last accessed your email. The data collected generally does not contain personal or content-specific details, but rather transactional information about the user, the device and activities taking place. In some cases you can limit the information that is collected – by turning off location services on your cell phone for instance – but many times you cannot. Below, explore some of the data collected through activities you do every day.
On Thursday, June 13 The Guardian’s data editor James Ball will answer your questions about the NSA data collection program in the US from 3pm-4pm EST | 8pm-9pm BST
What metadata looks like
Below is a tweet from @GuardianUS (right) and a truncated version of its metadata (left). Accessing metadata is often possible through services offered by the provider and can be retrieved in a structured format that could include raw text, XML, or in this example, JSON. An easy way to see some of your own metadata is by looking at your browser’s history which provides information about what websites you visited and when.
What you can tell using metadata:
A case study of the Petraeus scandal