Who Needs Spreadsheet file Properties?

Who Needs Spreadsheet file Properties?


At first glance, they may seem pretty unremarkable – who pays attention to spreadsheet file properties? It’s noteworthy that the Spreadsheet Safe training and certification programme suggests they have quite a level of importance. Let’s see why:

At a software level, MS show them on the right hand side of the Excel Info window, and the easily-overlooked little dropdown gives you a choice of a Document Panel or the Advanced Properties Dialog Box. On the latter’s Summary and Custom tabs, you can update the terms which the Windows Search indexer can use.

It’s true that most corporate users would have folders organised to hold their spreadsheet files by subject, they would rarely use the Find box in Windows to search for workbooks with specific keywords in the properties. But for the same reason many users who send spreadsheets outside their department, indeed to the outside world, are unconscious of what information is available in these properties. Some recipients might be very interested to know the originating organisation of what should be an anonymous spreadsheet; or the identity or login name of the original author or last.

Another of the Spreadsheet Safe syllabus points is to “Be aware of data protection legislation”. The UK Information Commissioner’s Office in the UK show several reports of data leaks where people didn’t know how much confidential data they were really giving away. But even outside legislation there may be good reasons of commercial sensitivity to anonymise your spreadsheets. The recommended way of publishing information is by PDF, or by CSV (or tab-separated) where the recipients want to process the data. Sending a whole workbook may be telling them more than they need to know; but if you have to, at least run the Document Inspector first (File > Prepare for Sharing > Check for Issues > Inspect Document) so you know what should be removed.

Spreadsheet Safe Programme
Syllabus Reference: Examine spreadsheet file properties.

Garry Cleere
Spreadsheet Safe Programmme Manager
23 August 2016

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