Microsoft Adds A “Feature” To Track Users In Corporate Environments…. And The Reaction Is Pretty Much What You’d Expect

Microsoft in their infinite wisdom decided to a feature in some of their Office 365 apps that logged app usage data at a user level. They claimed enterprise customers could use the data to measure both the productivity and influence of their employees. The Guardian summed this feature up this way:

Microsoft has been criticised for enabling “workplace surveillance” after privacy campaigners warned that the company’s “productivity score” feature allows managers to use Microsoft 365 to track their employees’ activity at an individual level.

The tools, first released in 2019, are designed to “provide you visibility into how your organisation works”, according to a Microsoft blogpost, and aggregate information about everything from email use to network connectivity into a headline percentage for office productivity.

But by default, reports also let managers drill down into data on individual employees, to find those who participate less in group chat conversations, send fewer emails, or fail to collaborate in shared documents.

Researcher Wolfie Christl says this is problematic:

Needless to say, the blowback to this was epic as this is a significant privacy issue. And to nobody’s surprise, Microsoft has now yanked user level data according this blog post:

We appreciate the feedback we’ve heard over the last few days and are moving quickly to respond by removing user names entirely from the product. This change will ensure that Productivity Score can’t be used to monitor individual employees. At Microsoft, we’re committed to both data-driven insights and user privacy. We always strive to get the balance right, but if and when we miss, we will listen carefully and make appropriate adjustments.

We’re making the following changes to Productivity Score:

First, we’re removing user names from the product. During preview, we added a feature that showed end-user names and associated actions over a 28-day period. In response to feedback over the last week, we’re removing that feature entirely. Going forward, the communications, meetings, content collaboration, teamwork, and mobility measures in Productivity Score will only aggregate data at the organization level—providing a clear measure of organization-level adoption of key features. No one in the organization will be able to use Productivity Score to access data about how an individual user is using apps and services in Microsoft 365.

Second, we’re modifying the user interface to make it clearer that Productivity Score is a measure of organizational adoption of technology—and not individual user behavior […]

The remaining three measures in the product— Microsoft 365 App health, network connectivity, and endpoint analytics—don’t include user names. 

I am not sure if this is enough. I can see scenarios where some data could still be tied back to specific individuals seeing as it includes device identifiers. So I fully expect this to continue to be an issue that Microsoft will have to deal with.

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