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How to protect yourself from metadata

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TECHNOLOGY expert Benjamin Finn, in an interview conducted by Reporters Without Borders (RSF),  warns about the threat posed by metadata, listing the tools available for journalists to protect themselves and their sources.

He said: “Metadata reveals vital information that can be used against both the sender and receiver.

“In its strictest sense, metadata is data that describes data. Different platforms have different metadata needs for their operation, which includes information such as date, time, filename, settings, location, email header, recipient, server names, software, and more.

“ It can also include what a user clicks on, how long they stay on a page, what a user purchases, and every trackable habit or interest a user displays”.


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He added that there is metadata on everything a user does on a computer including personal computer files, documents, social media, and all web searches.

“ These can be combined across multiple platforms using profiles and trackers, also known as cookies, to gain a deep understanding of who someone is and even to predict their online behavior”.

Finn said that” Since ISPs have access to a large amount of information by default, combating privacy issues can be a difficult task. There is no way to completely eliminate the risk of being tracked through metadata, but the following can increase privacy while online”.

Here are ways Journalists can protect themselves and their sources

Use a Virtual Private Network at all times – a good VPN can mask some metadata such as IP addresses.

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Install apps like Privacy Badger, which reduces the tracking systems that social media sites use. Have a designated device only for social media, and never use it for secure discussions.

Use a security-focused browser like Brave or Tor. If possible, use the Tor system itself and not just the browser.

Use security-focused apps for communication like Signal.

Use encrypted email services like ProtonMail and encourage sources to do so as well, because this email service only offers strong protection when used with another ProtonMail account.

Use burner phones and when not in use, keep them powered off with the battery taken out. Be sure to use a different ISP than your everyday phone, with a dedicated SIM card.

Use a physical exchange of large files without directly meeting a source, for example by using a post office box. If meeting a source is necessary, do not bring along any device.

Author profile

Blessing Otoibhi is a Multimedia Journalist and Anchor host for the News in 60 seconds at The International Center For Investigative Reporting. You can shoot her a mail via Botoibhi@icirnigeria.org or connect on Twitter @B_otoibhi

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