Many Social Media Sites Still Remove Image Rights Information from Photos

Important image metadata is not retained in images after upload to some of the most popular social media sites, according to a study by the International Press Telecommunications Council (IPTC) released today.  The missing data includes key copyright and identification information as well as descriptive data about the image.

The IPTC, a consortium of over 50 news agencies and media companies, sets international technical standards for news exchange, including metadata embedded in image files. The recent Social Media Sites Photo Metadata Test repeats a survey in 2013; while improvements are noted, some sites scored lower this time around.

The Social Media Sites Photo Metadata Test evaluated 15 top social media sites, and checked if embedded metadata was retained and displayed on upload to the sites or downloads of various versions of the image. The results are displayed at http://www.embeddedmetadata.org/testresults.

Only one social media site, Behance, received favorable results for retaining and displaying embedded data. A few systems retained embedded metadata but failed to use it when displaying metadata on the website. Ten sites removed at least some metadata when images were downloaded to a desktop environment.

“There are many important reasons to embed and preserve metadata – to protect copyrights, ensure proper licensing, track image use, smooth workflow, and make them searchable on- or offline,” said Michael Steidl, Managing Director of IPTC. “If users provide captions, dates, a copyright notice and the creator within their images, that data shouldn’t be removed when sharing them on social media websites without their knowledge.”

There may be several reasons social media services remove metadata – and some may not be intentional. Test results showed that in some cases, when images were downloaded to a desktop environment, the metadata was preserved if the size of the image remained unchanged. But if the image was rescaled, the metadata was stripped. “The quality assurance of these sites might not be aware that their software strips metadata inadvertently,” said Steidl.

“Because many of the social media sites are essentially free, users become the product, and not necessarily the customers,” said David Riecks, a photographer and metadata consultant who owns ControlledVocabulary.com and worked on the test. “Users are often not aware of these practices. There should be a sweet spot between these social sites preserving all metadata and removing it all. I’d like to see more engineers working together to find solutions.”

The Embedded Metadata Manifesto was launched by IPTC in 2011 to draw attention to the importance of retaining important data embedded in image files. The website, http://www.embeddedmetadata.org also includes Embedded Metadata Manifesto’s five guidelines for how metadata should be handled and preserved in digital media.

About IPTC:

The IPTC, based in London, brings together the world’s leading news agencies, publishers and industry vendors. It develops and promotes efficient technical standards to improve the management and exchange of information between content providers, intermediaries and consumers. The standards enable easy, cost-effective and rapid innovation and include the Photo Metadata standard, the news exchange formats NewsML-G2, SportsML-G2 and NITF, rNews for marking up online news, the rights expression language RightsML, and NewsCodes taxonomies for categorizing news. Visit the web site http://www.iptc.org or follow @IPTC on Twitter.

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