A survey has shown that 85 percent of photographs published on the Internet (not including social media and image libraries) have had their metadata removed. Of those that retained the information, fewer than one in five contained copyright details.
The research suggests that while the vast majority of photographers add their details in the metadata as part of their workflow, many platforms — including major news outlets — strip that information out, in part a hangover from a time when shedding a couple of kilobytes was crucial to keeping file sizes as small as possible.
According to the research, 82 percent of photographers add their copyright information to a file's IPTC data as a means of protecting the image from being stolen. Most photographers are aware of how easy it is to remove that information, but few of us realize to what extent this process is automated not only by reputable news publishers but also by content management systems and social media platforms.
Perhaps one of the most alarming findings in the survey is that the overwhelming majority of well-established news websites are happily removing metadata from images: 50 percent partially delete the information while another 40 percent erase it completely. Social media platforms also didn't fare well, with only Facebook retaining any worthwhile IPTC information. Twitter, Pinterest, and LinkedIn strip every single field.
Personally, I already placed very little value in metadata but I assumed that my regular platforms for publishing my work would keep the information. Slightly disconcerted, I checked my own portfolio website, hosted by Squarespace. Naively, I assumed that the metadata would be preserved, but it turns out that while Squarespace is able to keep that information in every version of an image file that it creates, this option is switched off by default. This is not unusual; according to the research, most commercial content management systems do the same.
In retrospect, I don't know why I'm surprised given that metadata seems to be completely worthless. We can continue automatically adding the information to our own image libraries each time we import a fresh batch of images, but we shouldn't expect it to be of any use when it comes to maintaining provenance.
The complete findings can be found on the Imatag website.