Sometimes, tech blogs get it all wrong
August 3rd, 2017 by Isaiah Beard

Tech blogs are great sometimes for showing people nice “hacks” (or really, just features) that people can use to get the most of the technology they use.  But, they don’t always get their facts correct.

One glaring example is an article I came across last week, explaining how to remove Exif Metadata from photos on your iPhone.  This metadata, the author insists, is the enemy, allegedly gunking up your phone with needless data:

Unless you’re a super professional photographer or are wanting to get a bit more in-depth with your photographs/info for a project of some sort, then EXIF data has little use to you besides weighing down your iPhone with unnecessary metadata.

What they’re suggesting is that 1. Metadata takes up a lot of space, and 2. It “bogs down” your phone. Both of these things are false.

What is EXIF metadata?

EXIF is a standard for technical metadata that is embedded intro most photos.  Some of it if fairly routine: information about the editing software used, the make and model of camera, and editing history.  But there is also some relatively useful information just as date and time stamping and location data often contained in EXIF, especially for photographs taken by smartphones.  The data is necessary for your photo software to organize your photos by time and place… very useful if you have thousands of photos and want to quickly search for a specific one.

The authors of the above article recommend that you “strip” you photos of all the metadata to solve some problem that doesn’t really exist. This isn’t such a great idea, because metadata is how your phone (and your tablet, and your computer) organize your memories. When you say, “Hey Siri/Google/Alexa/Cortana, show me those photos I took last year from Timbuktu,” your assistant needs to have location and time data matched up with the photo. That’s metadata. And metadata is how it knows the difference between the photos you took last year at Timbuktu, from the photos you took last night at Olive Garden.

If you remove all that, it would be like someone taking a few thousand physical photos out of their boxes/envelopes/albums, erasing anything written on the back of them, and then scattering them all on the floor, many of them face-down. Then saying “quick! Find that photo of Aunt Agnes on the third night of her first honeymoon!”

You’d go nuts trying to find that picture, and you’ll probably give up before you actually stumble on it. Likewise, if you wipe all your photo metadata on your phone, your smartphone will suddenly act a lot dumber, and will suddenly be unable to find a lot of things it used to just magically know.

Does metadata take up a lot of space? No. At work, we have a small repository with 11.46 Terabytes of data… enough to fill about 359 iPhone 7+s to the brim. Of all that data, 0.01% of that is metadata. And we are VERY detailed about our metadata, more so than what the average smartphone records.

Metadata doesn’t “bog down” your phone. It actually makes your phone do a lot of the things you expect it to do.

That said, there ARE some cases where you might want to make a copy of a picture or a video, and then wipe its metadata. Sharing a picture with someone else but wanting to remain anonymous, for example. Or, posting a video but preserving your privacy on social media. For reasons like that, yes, this is useful tool. Just not something you want to do on your whole collection of media, “just because.”

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