metadata

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Definition

noun
: data that provides information about other data.

Examples
1. The investigator used metadata from phone company records to identify the culprit behind the harassing calls.
2. “The intended point was that the NSA wasn’t collecting the words we said during our phone conversations, only the phone numbers of the two parties, and the date, time, and duration of the call. This seemed to mollify many people, but it shouldn’t have. Collecting metadata on people means putting them under surveillance.” — Bruce Schneier, Wired, March 25, 2015.

Did You Know?
It’s easy to find data on the source of metadata: the word was formed by combining data with meta-, which means “transcending” and is often used to describe a new but related discipline designed to deal critically with the original one. Meta- was first used in that way in metaphysics and has been extended to a number of other disciplines, giving us such words as metapsychology and metamathematics. Metadata takes the “transcending” aspect a step further, applying it to the concept of pure information instead of a discipline. Metadata is a fairly new word (it first appeared in print in 1968), whereas “data” can be traced back to the 17th century.

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