The Ethics of the Creation, Distribution, and Use of Metadata
This paper discusses the ethical issues that may arise in the creation, distribution, and use of metadata. To do this, one must first understand what metadata is, and have a reasonable understanding of how it is used today. Metadata is not a word that the average person can state a definition for. In fact, even many technologically inclined people may not have a sound idea of what exactly metadata means. Although many people don’t recognize the name, metadata, many people look at, use, or even create metadata on a daily basis. To truly appreciate how important metadata is one must have a firm grasp on what metadata allows and how difficult information retrieval is without it.
What is Metadata?
“The variety and amount of information and information-dependent activities from which we can choose seems to be expanding exponentially.”1 The huge amount of information available, that covers a vast number of topics, requires an efficient way to access this information if any reasonable learning is to take place. This is exactly what metadata does. It categorizes the information created by one person so that others may find it and utilize it. Metadata could be said to be “information about information” or “data about data.”2
If metadata’s purpose, “is to enable integration and retrieval within information systems,” 3 then it needs interoperability, or “the ability of software and hardware on multiple machines from multiple vendors to communicate.”4 This means that for metadata to have a positive effect, or to actually be helpful, standards must be in place, so that one person’s metadata can be comparably likened to a second person’s metadata, and then organized in a useful manner.
This may be very confusing when stated in a nonspecific fashion as I have done above. So I will use an example to further clarify. The card catalog system that has been used in libraries for years is an example of a standardized system of metadata. Certain requirements are demanded for each book and this data is stored on a card that makes finding and accessing the needed book efficient. This is metadata in its oldest and purest form.
Metadata standards are even more important in regards to digital information. Metadata used to classify information stored online crosses many different hardware and software platforms, and because of the vast amounts of information there is a need for it to be sorted by machine rather than by human, as in the card catalog system. These parameters call for a standard that is both visible to the user and readable by a machine. This is what many of the metadata standards in effect today try to accomplish.
Metadata standards can be looked at from two different extremes, the minimalist view or the structuralist view. The minimalist view is to have only a small number of requirements that are easily input by inexperienced users....