If you aren’t aware by now how Microsoft Word saves all revision and review information as a matter of its default behavior, then you need to know any interaction you have with a Word document of your creation — or if you are reviewing someone else’s Word document — does not protect your identity unless you interactively remove your private information.
You can imagine how this Word feature/problem is haunting for those
unaware of its nefarious power. This Word document tracking issue
played a role in the ramp up for the War in Iraq:
Back in February 2003, 10 Downing Street published a
dossier on Iraq’s security and intelligence organizations. This dossier
was cited by Colin Powell in his address to the United Nations the same
month. Dr. Glen Rangwala, a lecturer in politics at Cambridge
University, quickly discovered that much of the material in the dossier
was actually plagiarized from a U.S. researcher on Iraq. Blair’s
government made one additional mistake: they published the dossier as a
Microsoft Word file on their Web site. When I first heard from Dr.
Rangwala about the dossier, I decided to try to learn who had worked on
the document. I downloaded the Word file containing the dossier from
the 10 Downing Street Web site (http://www.number-10.gov.uk/) and found the following revision log in the file…
Here is what Dr. Glen Rangwala claims:
The document claims to draw “upon a number of sources,
including intelligence material” (p.1, first sentence). Now this is a
bit misleading. More precisely, the bulk of the 19-page document
(pp.6-16) is directly copied without acknowledgement from an article in
last September’s Middle East Review of International Affairs entitled
“Iraq’s Security and Intelligence Network: A Guide and Analysis”.
The author of the piece is Ibrahim al-Marashi, a postgraduate student
at the Monterey Institute of International studies. He has confirmed to
me that his permission was not sought; in fact, he didn’t even know
about the British document until I mentioned it to him.
The Word document “public private peer review” problem/feature goes
beyond faked war documents to threaten the privacy of any anonymous
reviewer or editor and so, in February 2004, Microsoft offered a downloadable fix:
Microsoft issued a download for Office 2003/XP to allow
users to “permanently remove hidden data and collaboration data, such
as change tracking and comments, from Microsoft Word, Microsoft Excel,
and Microsoft PowerPoint files.”
An important issue in itself, made
even more relevant when considered alongside this article by Preston
Gralla, published yesterday, about the creation of a purportedly
“high-level [UK] intelligence dossier about Iraq” discovered to be
“little more than a cut-and-paste job” constructed in Word.
However, today, proving once again how history repeats itself —
especially for the uninformed intelligent — and also re-confirming how
time heals all wounds, but not all software anomalies, The Chronicle reported:
The peer-review process at many academic journals is
intended to be blind, meaning that authors do not know who is reviewing
their work. But a little-known setting in Microsoft Word has led to the
unmasking of some peer reviewers, and at least a few journals have
issued guidelines for making sure that electronic documents remain
Keyne A. Cheshire, an assistant professor of classics at Davidson
College, in North Carolina, who describes himself as new to scholarly
publishing, said he recently discovered the issue by accident. After
submitting an article to a journal in his field, he received a reviewer
report by e-mail, forwarded from the journal’s editor (he declined to
name the journal or editor).
The report, which Mr. Cheshire said
included some “hefty criticism” of his article, arrived as a Microsoft
Word file attached to the e-mail message.
When Mr. Cheshire opened the document, he noticed that it seemed to be
created using a British version of Word. Curious, he clicked on the
document’s preferences and was surprised to see a screen labeled
“Summary” that listed the name of the person who had created the
document — someone in his discipline whom he knew.
This unintentional lack of a blind review process is charming. I have
never understood the rationale behind a one-way blind review because
the reviewer knows the author and can cut the author with comments but
the author is not allowed to know the identity of the one wielding the
knife? How can you answer your accusers if they hide behind an
anonymous veil masking their intentions and idiosyncrasies?
Double-blind review is a bit better where neither author nor reviewer
knows the identity of the other — but I have always found greatest
value in reviewers who are public and identified and who will stand by
their criticisms and cures on-the-record. It is easy to snipe from a
distance and harder to do so with your name written on the bullet.
Public peer review allows and encourages open discussion and is an
instant remedy plaguing anonymous academic peer review: Criticism
without offering a solution is only complaining. I find it divine so
many in academe are still unaware of the ability for an author to track
the eyes and hands fingering their work throughout the review process:
S. Douglas Olson, who is editor of Classical Journal and a
professor of classical and Near Eastern studies at the University of
Minnesota-Twin Cities, said he stumbled upon the issue the hard way:
After writing one of his first reviews, he got a note from the author,
who shouldn’t have known his identity, alerting him that he’d left his
name in the document’s summary field.
“Luckily they were very positive referee reports,” says Mr. Olson. He
said he immediately informed the journal’s editor, who was also unaware
of the possibility that reviewers’ names might be hidden in Word
documents. “She was just horrified.” “This is completely new to me,”
said Jana Argersinger, vice president of the Council of Literary
Magazines and Presses. “It may be that none of our submitters have been
savvy enough to know about it.”
“I have never heard of this,” said Rosemary G. Feal, executive director
of the Modern Language Association. “And I myself am a journal editor.”
In the next version of Word in Office 2007, a “Document Inspector” will
help you remove identifying information. Until the next version of Word
is released, here’s how to remove the information right now:
1. Open Word and choose Word | Properties| Security. (Use
“Preferences” instead of “Properties” on a Mac).
2. Under Privacy Options, check Remove personal information from this
file on save. This will strip author name, initials, etc.
3. If you wish to be alerted when a document contains trackable
information such as comments or edits, check the box marked Warn before
printing, saving or sending a file that contains tracked changes or
4. Click OK to close the Preferences dialog.
Note: The command to remove personal information is not “sticky.” It
must be enabled for each document you want information stripped from.
You can learn how to protect your privacy in Excel and PowerPoint here. Here’s a list of other privacy protections
you may employ while using Word.
Microsoft Word’s ability to track your every editorial intention by
default serves an important looming lesson for us all: What you
privately write might publicly bite you back!