Stuff that occurs to me

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Think of this blog as a sort of nursery for my half-baked ideas hence 'stuff that occurs to me'.

Contact: @JoBrodie Email: jo DOT brodie AT gmail DOT com

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Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Is there a "metadata protection act"? How do we think about metadata

by @JoBrodie

Recently I have spotted some tweets about an alternative health magazine (What Doctors Don't Tell You) which is offering its readers a taped recording of discussions with various people about cancer treatments. The implication in the advert is that the magazine can't say too much about the contents of the tape in the text of the offer because doing so would bring the Cancer Act 1939 upon them.

They're probably right, in two senses. Offering advice, to the public, about cancer treatment falls within the Act but the text as seen in this bit of marketing does not itself offer any advice about treatment, so is fine. I've no idea if the recording itself would breach the Act (regardless of how it's acquired by members of the public) or if it's problematic because receiving it is contingent on taking out a subscription... or in fact not at all (I'm not a lawyer).

This made me wonder: what's the deal with not saying something but just linking to it or inferring it? Does that count? No idea.

It reminded me of a small collection I've been making that relates to jigsaw ID and how all sorts of things can be inferred from metadata. Efforts can be made to conceal your data but the metadata about your can be leaky.

The jigsaw ID and metadata stuff is quite separate though from an advert about cancer information - this is about me thinking through some thoughts about the way in which we consider indirect information. But I suppose both would be covered by my notion of a 'metadata protection act' in which everyone had to be super careful about how they point to things.

Convinced that others might have thought this exact same thought I searched on Twitter for the jokey phrase "metadata protection act" but found nothing on Twitter and only two hits on Google. So I've sort of stumbled upon a sort of Googlewhack if nothing else ;)

Newspapers have guidelines on reporting abuse cases, to avoid indirectly implying the victim without naming them directly. Do we have anything else for metadata? If we did, I wonder what difference it would make to this advert. 


  1. I saw that ad on Twitter, and I'm not a lawyer either, but the very last part of the advertising section of the Cancer Act says:

    "In this section the expression " advertisement " includes any notice, circular, label, wrapper or other document, and any announcement made orally or by any means of producing or transmitting sounds."

    It seems that would cover this audio recording, assuming the recording is "containing an offer to treat any person for cancer, or to prescribe any remedy therefor, or to give any advice in connection with the treatment thereof;" (which is in section 1 of the act).

    Some skeptic should obtain a copy of this and listen to it very carefully.

    1. Oooh I don't know if anyone's got hold of the recording. I'd not be surprised but wouldn't like to be the one to sit through 630 minutes of that ;)

      The Act certainly covers many different types of media, and I'm certain that the audio recording contains advice if not outright offers of treatment but is it an *advert*... or just *the thing being advertised* by their 'offer' advert? That is why I'm so intrigued by the relationship between the data (in this case the tape) and the advert-as-metadata which points to it.


Comment policy: I enthusiastically welcome corrections and I entertain polite disagreement ;) Because of the nature of this blog it attracts a LOT - 5 a day at the moment - of spam comments (I write about spam practices,misleading marketing and unevidenced quackery) and so I'm more likely to post a pasted version of your comment, removing any hyperlinks.

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