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[liberationtech] Why Metadata Matters

Griffin Boyce griffinboyce at
Thu Jun 6 10:44:03 PDT 2013

  I see a lot of people wondering why metadata matters.  "But they
don't know *what* you're doing there!"  So I'll give a short example
to illustrate how metadata can be used to not only determine who
someone is talking to, but also to invade their privacy and uncover
the most intimate details of their life.

  Jane is at 16th & L Street for an hour.
  Carla is at 16th & L Street for four hours. She's had a short visit
  James is at 16th & L Street for twenty minutes. He comes back at the
same time every week.
  Kris is at 16th & L Street for ten hours.
  Rick is at 16th & L Street for eight hours every night.
  Samantha has been there for three days and four hours.

16th & L Street is the address of a Planned Parenthood in Washington, DC.

  Jane is having a physical.
  Carla is having an abortion.
  James receives his medication there. By visit time, location, and
frequency, he is likely a trans guy. If his appointments were every
two weeks, the metadata would indicate that James is a trans woman.
  Kris is protesting there.
  Rick works in an office in the same building.
  Samantha dropped her phone in the Farragut West Metro Station and
has been looking for it ever since.

And that's just location data. If one calls a physician every day,
perhaps they have a major medical problem. If a crime happens on the
other side of town, and you suddenly start calling attorneys... did
you do it?  There are numerous explanations for either of those
scenarios, but this kind of metadata in isolation can be used to tell
almost any story you want.

Stay safe out there.

Griffin Boyce

Technical Program Associate, Open Technology Institute
#Foucault / PGP: 0xAE792C97 / OTR: saint at

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