Today’s article is about MetaClean, a Thunderbird plugin that you can use to automatically clean Exif (and other meta data) from email attachments. This is not the type of article I usually write, but it’s a very interesting extension for the Thunderbird email client. It’s good enough to help make folks aware of it.
Just the other day, I updated this article:
The update was largely a link that went to a study regarding the privacy implications of Exif data. If you’re unfamiliar with Exif data and its importance, I would strongly encourage you to read the article. I’d also strongly encourage you to read the linked article. If you’re concerned with your privacy, or are regulated to be concerned with the privacy of others, this might just be one of the best extensions you’ve ever used.
See, Exif data is just one type of meta data. Lots of files, from pictures to text documents, contain meta data. For example, a file generated by a rich text editor (such as LibreOffice) will contain your username, may contain a record of edits, and may contain a list of usernames that have also edited it. Meta data contains all that and more.
Note: MetaClean is a proprietary product with an enterprise/business solution that offer their services free for personal use. It’s a closed source product and using it means you trust them to perform the services claimed and adhere to their claims.
The file remains on the server for the time necessary for its processing, depending on the size of the file the processing time varies from 10 milliseconds to 600 milliseconds, after this time the file is removed and it will be impossible to restore it (GDPR compliant).
Read on to learn more about using MetaClean.
MetaClean Automatically Removes Meta Data:
It’s easy enough to add MetaClean to Thunderbird. Just click on Add-Ons and Themes, and then in the search box put “MetaClean.” The search result should contain the extension and you can install it with a single click. It’s remarkably easy.
MetaClean basically uploads all of your attachments to their own server, strips out the meta data (but will leave their own branding in the field, for free users) and then returns the sanitized file to your computer before the email actually sends. I tested this with a number of files and it’s amazingly fast.
Again, it requires that you trust them – and not care that they leave a comment in your meta data. The comment is harmless and won’t lead to you in any way. Your privacy will not be compromised.
Here’s the amazing thing, it not only does all that – but it even works on compressed files – though it only currently supports 7Zip and .zip formats. With them supporting Thunderbird (and it working fine on Linux), we can hope that they’ll expand that to .gz and some folks may like it if it could also work with .rar files. For now, it works just fine with the compressed files I tested.
Meta data is in all sorts of things that you create or touch, though it’s not always a bad thing. It’s sometimes useful to have meta data. I, for one, like to include the ID3 tags with my music files. But, you don’t always want to share the meta data. In fact, in some industries you have to not share it – to be compliant with privacy laws. However, if that’s you, you might be interested in their professional options – where the server that strips the meta data is actually owned and run by you.
Basically, once you’ve added it as an extension, it will automatically sanitize your files – removing any personal meta data from the file. It does this all without any user intervention (once you tell it to automatically do so). If you want to send a file while including the meta information you can also tell the plugin to let that email through with the personal information attached.
It’s really that simple. Just install MetaClean and forget it. You won’t have to wonder if you remembered to sanitize your meta data before you sent it. You can be pretty confident that it was sent without that private data still attached. It’s definitely one of the most beneficial and easiest Thunderbird extensions that I’ve worked with lately.
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