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Suppose a photo is edited in one image editing program first. Then the name of that program is usually displayed in EXIF data. When the edited picture is again opened and edited in different software, then the name of that software will appear in EXIF data.

Is there any way to detect all of the programs that have actually been used to edit the picture?

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No. You're at the mercy of the editing programs. Unless every editing program preserves an audit trail of all existing metadata, and adds it's own metadata, then you're out of luck.

All that an editing program really needs is the image data itself. And the edited image data is all it really needs to save. Preserving any existing EXIF metadata is good practice, and a benefit to the user. But keeping an audit trail of all the other software it's been through isn't (as far as I know) part of the standard EXIF format, so that isn't kept - and it only takes one program that doesn't copy some of the metadata for that part to be lost.

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  • And you could always strip it with something like exiftool, or convert to png and back again if you wanted to get rid of the meta data, even if all editors preserved it. You would have to lose all interoperability and create a new file format. Then there would be an incentive to reverse engineer that. – Chris H May 15 '17 at 18:57

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