Reacting to bad Redacting

In early January 2019, a high profile case of “Redaction Fail” made the headlines when it was revealed that the redacted material could still be read if copied and pasted into a word processor. My initial reaction was of concern, because my first thought was that the redaction feature in Adobe Acrobat had a serious drawback. However, this was soon put to rest once I viewed the actual document in question, and realised that Acrobat’s redaction feature had not been used, but another low-tech method was used instead.

Low-tech method 1: Highlight

In Microsoft Word, it’s easy to change the highlighter colour to black to act as a redaction. Similarly, Adobe InDesign has a similar feature where an underline can be created that is the same colour as the text and adjusting the height of the line to the top of the ascender to the bottom of the descender.

lazy001

Looks great on screen, and looks great on a PDF.

lazy002

Be assured though that this is NOT REDACTED. I know this because I can reveal what was written in several ways:

  • By highlighting the text and copying into any text editor;

lazy003

  • By using an accessibility feature that will allow the line (or page) to be read back

lazy004

  • In Acrobat Professional, using the Edit feature to change the colour of the type

lazy005

  • Editing the PDF with the Enfocus Pitstop plug-in in a similar fashion to the last method, or even remove the redaction itself or view the type under the redaction using the wireframe view.

lazy006

  • By highlighting the text, opening the tags panel and selecting Find Tag from Selection

lazy007

  • By highlighting the text, opening the content panel and looking up the content by its page location

lazy008

  • Via the print production tools in Acrobat Professional, go to the output preview and in the Show portion of the dialog box, select Text from the dropdown

lazy009

(The above method can be circumvented if the redaction character style has a type fill of [None] and the underline coloured [Black]).

To be fair, no security settings had been applied to this test file. If I apply password security so that copying, pasting and accessibility is off, the last three methods can still be employed to see this text, albeit with many options greyed out:

lazy010

 

Low-tech method 2: Redact Font

Fonts (such as the redacted font by David Walsh) give the type a redacted look without the need to create a highlighter-style effect.

lazy011

Again, rest assured that this document is NOT REDACTED.

Park the fact that the copy has now reflowed after the style has been applied, many of the previous methods can still be employed to read this text.

lazy012

Yes, there is also the drastic action of employing this technique, adding security AND converting all text to outlines using a method described over at InDesignSecrets, but doing so will make a PDF that is:

  • Unsearchable and unprintable;
  • Has no accessibility features;
  • Involves manipulating the original artwork, rather than a file that has to have redactions applied.

If you need to redact the file, use Adobe Acrobat’s Redact feature, and make sure to read the instructions to be sure that is being used properly.

lazy013

The instructions on the Adobe Acrobat help site for using this feature are quite useful.

A related redaction warning

If photographs also need to be redacted, note that if unredacted versions of the images exist online, chances are that Google’s Image search or Tineye may be able to find the unredacted originals.

Take the following image that was used on this site two articles ago. I’ve done a basic redaction our faces and run the redacted image through exifpurge to remove any metadata.

lazy014

If I drag and drop this image into Google’s image search, it is able to find the unredacted versions of this photo that are currently online:

lazy015

While this example was a light-hearted example, much more serious examples can be found via ABC Australia’s Media Watch programme.

 

Advertisements

Checkboxes are back in Acrobat Comments… sort of…

Following on from my last post (or rant) about the removal of the checkbox in Adobe Acrobat’s commenting tools, I can report that the December 2018 release of Adobe Acrobat has brought back checkboxes within the commenting tools. However, it does come with some caveats:

It is an “opt-in” preference

Unfortunately, the ability to see checkboxes is off by default. If you are missing the checkboxes and want them back, you have to make sure that you have the following checkbox checked in your preferences:

checkbox1

Checkboxes are only shown when comments are selected

Unlike earlier versions of Acrobat that would show all checkboxes (whether the comment was selected or not) the checkboxes will only appear once a comment is selected.

 

checkbox3

I find this frustrating as I have to click on the comment to then have access to the checkbox, whereas in previous (admittedly older) versions, the checkboxes always appeared. Kelly Vaughn’s Document Geek site does a fantastic job of showing the different ways comments were handled in previous versions.

However, if all of the comments are selected, then all of the checkboxes become visible.

checkbox2

 

Problem solved, right? Sadly, no. If any of those checkboxes are clicked, all checkboxes that appear will change state from unchecked to checked.

checkbox5

 

So while checkboxes can appear in an unchecked state, the UI still has lots of room for improvement when compared to previous versions of Acrobat, or other paid PDF viewers such as Bluebeam Revue. For now, it’s a small win to see the checkboxes return.

The share button can be made smaller

Another UI fixup that was highly requested was the ability to remove the great big share button in the top right. Again, it’s there by default, but you can make it smaller by right clicking next to the button and selecting the Hide Share Button Label option:

checkbox4.png

So the button won’t go away, but will at least be half the size:

checkbox6

Déjà vu?

Unfortunately, this is the second time in recent years that myself and others had to twist the Acrobat team’s arm to bring back a feature that had been removed (or deprecated), such as the time that key tools from the commenting panel were removed before being reintroduced months later following user complaints.

In this instance, this isn’t the outcome that I (and many other users) were after, but at least it is a step in the right direction. Let’s hope that the next version of Acrobat introduce some of the community’s suggestions about the checkboxes, as well as other pain-points that can be found on the Acrobat Uservoice.

Bring Back the Checkbox in Acrobat Comments

UPDATE 2019-01-10: Checkboxes were reintroduced in the December 2018 update of Adobe Acrobat. More information can be found here, but I will keep this article visible for the sake of posterity.

At the beginning of October 2018, Adobe released its updates for Acrobat DC and Acrobat Reader DC. For those users who have the “Automatically install updates” checkbox checked in the Acrobat preferences, the update was installed without prompting.

Unfortunately, as part of this update, the Acrobat team removed a checkbox that is visible in the commenting panel when a comment is selected, as shown in the following image:
bringback01.jpgBy checking the checkbox on or off, it allows the comments to be filtered as checked or unchecked – quite handy when checking mark-ups that can’t be imported directly into InDesign’s new PDF comment import feature.

Strangely, while the checkbox was removed, it is still possible to mark a comment as checked, but this is done by right-clicking on the “Add checkmark” option of the contextual menu.
bringback02.png
Thinking this must be a bug, I went onto the Adobe Acrobat forums to see what was going on, only to be astonished that this was not a bug, but an intentional change:
bringback03
However, I completely disagree with the terms “clean and intuitive to use” and would substitute the terms “ludicrous and mind-boggling“. The idea of a checkmark is to either check it or uncheck it. If it is not possible to check the checkmark because it is not there, to me that is not intuitive, that is frustrating.

In my mind, this user interface change is the equivalent of removing the right indicator signal on a car, and activating the right indicator required changing the radio station twice.

Once I knew the workaround of using the contextual menu to click on the checkbox, I was still frustrated as this triples the amount of work to perform the same task. Instead of a one-step procedure of clicking a check box, the procedure now involves three steps:

  1. right click,
  2. scroll down,
  3. click the Add checkmark option.

This is fine if checking one item as marked, but if checking dozens – if not hundreds of these items – one at a time, that is an inconsiderate inconvenience.

Knowing the keyboard shortcut (Shift + K) is another workaround, but again this requires clicking on the comment(s) and then putting both hands on the keyboard to activate the shortcut.

For long-time readers of the Colecandoo blog, this may come as a sense of déjà vu, and that is because two years ago, a similar problem occurred.

Unlike the previous situation, I happened to be attending Adobe MAX 2018 in Los Angeles when the change had occurred, so was able to pass this feedback directly to the Senior Product Manager of Document Cloud. I took a selfie to prove that we in fact met while at MAX:
bringback04

To be fair on the Acrobat team, they have changed their stance and now listed the Uservoice issue as a planned one:

bringback05

However, despite going straight to the top about this issue, and having over 200 complaints to the Acrobat Uservoice page at the time of writing this article, the issue is STILL here.

In short, this is an important issue that many regular Acrobat users would like to see implemented now as a patch, rather than as a roll-back of the feature for the next scheduled release of Acrobat DC. I know the Acrobat team never intends to frustrate users, but keeping users waiting for this change back to be implemented is exacerbating the issue, especially when it was made clear through the Acrobat Uservoice that the change was unpopular.

My last comment on the matter is to those who design the UI/UX for Acrobat. When considering improvements for the software, please ask the users of the software what they would like implemented, and leave features alone if they are already there!

Is this why Data Merge PDFs are “throttled back”?

Some time ago, I wrote an article about the difference between Data Merge PDF Export vs regular PDF export. The article highlighted the difference between the two PDF exports, but not why the data merge PDF export appears to have been throttled. Admittedly, this seemed more of a curiosity than anything else, and no further research was undertaken.

dmmystery001

The Data Merge PDF export dialog box. The yellow highlight shows items that can’t be checked.

In October 2018, the issue was once again raised by a reader who asked about preparing tagged PDFs via the Data Merge palette for the purposes of Section 508 accessibility – a way tagging a PDF so that PDF-reading software with accessibility features can assist users with limited accessibility in various ways, such as the example of tagging an image with a description that can be read aloud for users with little- or no vision.

As I couldn’t offer an explanation, all I could do was point to my previous article and submit a request to the InDesign Uservoice team to allow the Export to PDF to have all features of a regular PDF.

Then one month later, I fielded a query on the Adobe InDesign Forums concerning Interactive PDF and Data Merge Conflict where a user had hyperlinks in an interactive PDF where data merge fields were present, even though they weren’t linking to anything.

dmmystery002

Notice the tooltip displayed by the name “Zolly” – text that was a Data Merge text field.

That reminded me of an article from InDesignSecrets about Ghost Hyperlinks explaining that data merge fields can also be shown in the hyperlinks panel, meaning merge fields are hyperlinks themselves.

dmmystery003

The highlighted field in the art is the data merge field, as well as hyperlink 2.

However, Data Merge can’t export to interactive PDF from the data merge panel, so the only way I could replicate the forum poster’s issue was to prepare an InDesign data merge file, navigate to a relevant record,  then go to the file menu and export an Interactive PDF of the visible record on the page.

It was at that moment it occurred to me that THIS may be the reason that the hyperlinks checkbox is greyed out from the “export to PDF” dialog box in the data merge palette – because the merge fields are – in effect – hyperlinks themselves, and having hyperlinks enabled would also make the variable text clickable in the resulting PDF, despite having no actual link to go to. It would also explain why data merge does not offer an “export to interactive PDF” option from the data merge palette.

So, despite having a “eureka” moment of solving why the exports were different, it also made me realise that – without overhauling the way data merge works in InDesign – it may be unlikely to directly export PDFs with hyperlinks or interactivity via the Data Merge Panel anytime soon.

It is worth noting that if the data merge is exported to an InDesign file first (as explained in my workaround linked at the start of the article), and then exported to an interactive PDF, these issues do not occur. However, it is double-handling.

Still, this is frustrating in a world moving online, particularly for marketers who want to prepare unique PDFs that contain:

  • Hyperlinks, not just for navigating to URLs, but within the PDF itself, such as footnotes or page navigation;
  • Interactivity such as form fields for the purposes of surveys and feedback; and
  • Accessibility, not only from the legal standpoint of Section 508 conformance, but the genuine desire to engage with people with limited accessibility.

On that note, isn’t it about time to update the data merge feature so that exports are no longer limited to throttled-back PDFs or InDesign files as their only options? As an addition, how about the ability to print a merge directly from a data merge file, a feature that has been available in Microsoft Word for nearly thirty years.

Or what about the ability to merge to uniquely named files based on each record, something that I’ve already prepared a script for but would welcome as part of the InDesign user interface. And why stop at full-throttle PDFs… how about image formats such as jpg or png, or other formats such as html? Statistics from an InDesignSecrets poll show that print PDFs account for just under half of the participants’ usual file output exports.

%d bloggers like this: