Microsoft apologises for feature criticised as workplace surveillance | Microsoft

Microsoft has apologised for enabling a feature, “productivity score”, which critics said was tantamount to workplace surveillance.

The company says it will now make changes to the service, which lets IT administrators “help their people get the most” from its products, in order to limit the amount of information about individual employees that is shared with managers.

“At Microsoft, we believe that data-driven insights are crucial to empowering people and organisations to achieve more,” Jared Spataro, the corporate vice president for Microsoft 365, said in a statement. “We also believe that privacy is a human right, and we’re deeply committed to the privacy of every person who uses our products.”

The core use-case of the productivity score service is at an organisational level: administrators can use it to see technical information about their network, and also to understand how employees are using features such as chatrooms and scheduling tools.

But that information could also be seen on a user-by-user basis, potentially allowing managers to identify individual employees who weren’t contributing enough, or using tools in the right way.

Now, Microsoft says, it will removing individual user names from the productivity score entirely. “Going forward, the communications, meetings, content collaboration, teamwork and mobility measures in productivity score will only aggregate data at the organisation level – providing a clear measure of organisation-level adoption of key features,” Spataro says. “No one in the organisation will be able to use productivity score to access data about how an individual user is using apps and services in Microsoft 365.”

The company is also changing its branding around the feature to make clear that the “productivity” that is being scored is that of organisations, not individuals. “Productivity score produces a score for the organisation and was never designed to score individual users,” Spataro adds.

Jeffrey Snover, a veteran Microsoft engineer and CTO of the company’s “modern workforce transformation” unit, praised the change and thanked Wolfie Christl, the Austrian privacy activist who first raised alarm about the feature, for the feedback.

“The thing I love most about Microsoft is that when we screw up, we acknowledge the error and fix it,” Snover tweeted. “10,000 thanks to Wolfie Christl and others for the feedback which led to this change!”


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