An Important Tip about Word Track Changes and the Metadata Problem

I learned something new and a very important distinction to keep in mind about Microsoft Word metadata from Tom Mighell today.
Tom and I were discussing whether clicking on “Accept all Changes” and saving a document would protect you from having someone to whom you sent the document be able to turn the “Track Changes” back on or otherwise see revisions and comments you had made but thought you had hidden.
Tom contended that the “Accept all changes” approach would work. Based on my fuzzy memory of what I had been able to do in previous versions of Word and this article, I had my reservations – but I like to be cautious on these issues, but I trust Tom’s opinions.
We tried a few experiments, checked with a forensics expert and did a little research. I’m now willing to admit that Tom was right, with a few words of warning and some advice that you satisfy yourself about the answer.
Here are the lessons I learned:
1. I was equating turning off Track Changes with Accepting All Changes. They are very different and the approach of turning off Track Changes is the one that is dangerous and can lead you into embarrassing situations. My approach was overly conservative, which is not necessarily a bad thing in this area. The one thing that you must realize is that simply turning off “Track Changes” will not protect your document.
2. If you want to rely on the “Accept all Changes” approach, you really have to make sure that you know what you are doing and check all of the right boxes. Any “user error” can make your revisions and comments viewable to someone who knows what they are doing. Proceed very carefully. The devil truly is in the details.
3. Before you rely on this approach, you absolutely need to make sure that this approach works with the versions of Word and the default settings you are using.
4. Microsoft has some great information on its website about the Track Changes issues, including a very helpful demo that should be required viewing for everyone who uses Track Changes.
5. As the computer forensics experts like to say, there may well be other ways for experts to find the revisions.
So, I some new things today, courtesy of Tom, about an issue that more and more lawyers are worrying about. I highly recommend, however, that you watch the demo.
[Originally posted on DennisKennedy.Blog (http://www.denniskennedy.com/blog/)]
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