|Who is Stripping Your Metadata?|
Who is Stripping Your Metadata?
For some time now David Riecks, a photographer based in the USA, and other members of the Controlled Vocabulary discussion forum have been subjecting social media websites to close scrutiny, particularily with regard to the extent to which they preserve metadata in images.There is a long standing and growing concern by photographers that social media websites are not preserving metadata in the images that their users upload. Social media websites such as Facebook and Twitter are hugely popular with millions of users from around the world. Facebook for example has over 400 million users and continues to grow, as does Twitter which had over 75 million users at the beginning of 2010. Social media sites hold vast numbers of images uploaded by their users, but in many cases the image metadata is simply being stripped out rendering these images as 'orphans'.
David states that sometimes this information is removed on upload; in other cases, it may be preserved in the original uploaded file, but any images derived from the original may no longer retain that same information.
The problem with stripping metadata from images is that it effectively renders the image an 'orphan', that is, it is no longer possible to identify the owner of the image. Both in the US and in the EU considerable pressure is being put on governments by vested commercial interests to legislate for orphan works, they are pressing for legislation to enable orphan works to be freely exploited for commercial gain. The passing of such legislation would provide for the world of business a rich seam of free imagery that they can profitably exploit, with no remuneration paid to the creator, all legitimate as long as a business signs a register to declare they 'made a diligent search for the owner' of the image.
This would be an appalling outcome for anyone making a living through the creation of images; a rich and ever growing stream of orphan works would reduce greatly the need to commission new works or purchase a license to use existing images from photographers.
Why is Metadata Being Stripped?
Some services may claim they remove this information to decrease download time for those viewing the images. Indeed, some social media services automatically resize your uploaded images to a smaller size, as their primary concern is to have your images take up less disk space. Since most do not charge any membership fees, and the service is basically free, many users don't complain, even if they are aware. This downsizing may make sense for the service, but not for users of their service that are interested in protecting their intellectual property. While your images may take up fractionally less space on their servers by intentionally removing the embedded photo metadata and/or ICC profile, the space savings are not justifiable.
David gives an example on his website, "when Facebook made changes to their privacy settings back in December of 2009, many users likely opted for the recommended settings — without taking the time to really understand the implications. Those users may now be surprised to find that they inadvertently gave Facebook the right to publicize their private information including status updates, shared links, and their photos. Given that the preliminary survey results show that the Facebook service strips out all embedded metadata on upload, this means those users have given up the opportunity to monetize their intellectual property, and — if some form of "orphan works" legislation should pass — potentially even from those that may download the images and use them later."
In Pro-Imaging's view, whatever reason organisations put forward for removing metadata from an image, it is a practice which no excuse can justify. We consider it to be the equivalent of defacing a painting by removing from it the signature of the artist. Few would disagree that such an action is both morally and legally wrong, regardless of the intent of the perpetrator. Yet the law is not clearly and unequivocably on the artist's side with regard to metadata stripping, however, that is a subject for yet another article.
The survey is being carried out on David Riecks Controlled Vocabulary website, the survey has two objectives -
Pro-Imaging recommend all photographers, professional and amateur, to participate in this metadata preservation survey, full details of how to do so are given on the survey website. On the survey website is a metadata test image which everyone can use and upload to their chosen social media websites. That test image has a full complement of metadata and it is easy to check after uploading to the social media website how much of it has been preserved by using Jeffrey Friedl's Online Metadata Viewer.
David is now checking out other online image services such as the recent growth in online file conversions and there too he has found some further examples of metadata stripping.
Pro-Imaging has similar concerns about photography competitions, some have been found to strip metadata when the image has been uploaded to the competition website. In view of David Riecks excellent work in this field we have updated our 'free competition image' to contain the same set of metadata that appears in the metadata test image. We hope that those who use the competition image and submit it to contests will also participate in David's survey to record what happened to the metadata on the competition website.
Metadata Survey - The Future
Currently survey results are recorded in complete detail on the Controlled Vocabulary website. However, David is planning to publish a summary of the initial findings and post a report with some icons that should make it easy for others to pick and choose which services to use (or avoid) based on their metadata preservation record.
If others want to get their service in, it will need to be recorded in the survey to be in the report. David hopes that will spur some action on the part of the service providers to review their existing metadata policy.
About David Riecks
David Riecks operates his own photography business and consulting service with a wide range of clients.
In addition to being a regular contributor on several professional forums, David gives seminars on creating image intensive Web sites and was one of the principals who developed Mira's "digital standards." He founded "Controlled Vocabulary," a resource to help others learn how best to build controlled vocabulary lists, thesauri, and keyword hierarchies for describing images in databases.
David currently chairs the Stock Artists Alliance (SAA) Imaging Technology Standards, and was past chair of the American Society of Media Photographers (ASMP) Digital Photography Standards & Practices committees. He also serves as the Chief Technical Advisor for the PLUS coalition; and somehow finds the time to participate in the Universal Photographic Digital Imaging Guidelines (UPDIG) Digitial Image Submission Criteria (DISC), IPTC4XMP and Photo Metadata working groups.
|< Prev||Next >|