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German state bans the use of Office 365 tools in its schools due to privacy concerns (Update)

By Polycount · 26 replies
Jul 15, 2019
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  1. Note: A Microsoft spokesperson has reached out to comment on the story. Their statement can be viewed below this piece.

    It's no secret that Microsoft's Office suite of productivity tools has been pretty popular over the years. Tools like Powerpoint are a godsend for students and corporations, whereas software such as Excel has proven invaluable to accountants and individuals who do their own taxes.

    Office 365 is essentially the same thing as the normal Office suite but with one key difference: Office 365 is cloud and subscription-based, whereas Office is license-based and usually used offline on a personal or work PC or Mac.

    Unfortunately for Microsoft, some German regulators -- specifically, those in Hesse -- have decided that Office 365's cloud technology has the potential to violate user privacy and thus can no longer be officially used in the state's schools.

    ... some German regulators [have decided] that Office 365's cloud technology has the potential to violate user privacy and thus can no longer be officially used in the state's schools.

    Hesse data protection commissioner Michael Ronellenfitsch says the primary reason Office 365 in particular (as well as alternatives from Google and Apple) runs afoul of data protection issues is that the suite of tools stores the data of European children in a cloud that is exposed to and accessible by US authorities.

    Ronellenfitsch insists that this is not a blanket ban on all cloud tools, noting that most such services do not "generally" pose a data protection problem for Hesse schools.

    "Many schools in Hesse are already using cloud solutions," he said in a translated statement (which may be prone to errors -- see the full thing here). "Schools can use digital applications in compliance with data protection, [as long] as the security of the data processing and the participation of the pupils is guaranteed."

    As others have noted, this is not an impossible situation for Microsoft to address -- they key concern here is the storage of German student user data (specifically, those in Hesse) on overseas servers. If Microsoft were to store this data on local servers instead, these new restrictions would likely be lifted.

    Update: Microsoft's statement is as follows:

    We routinely work to address customer concerns by clarifying our policies and data protection practices, and we look forward to working with the Hessian Commissioner to better understand their concerns. When Office 365 is connected to a work or school account, administrators have a range of options to limit features that are enabled by sending data to Microsoft.

    We recently announced (here and here), based on customer feedback, new steps towards even greater transparency and control for these organizations when it comes to sharing this data. In our service terms we document the steps we take to protect customer data, and we’ve even successfully sued the U.S. government over access to customer data in Europe. In short, we’re thankful the Commissioner raised these concerns and we look forward to engaging further with the Commissioner on its questions and concerns related to Microsoft’s offerings.

    Update 2: A Microsoft spokesperson has reached out to inform us that, following a discussion between Hesse's Data Protection Commissioner and company representatives, Office 365 will be "provisionally" allowed in Hessian public schools that have already purchased subscriptions. These subscriptions will be tolerated "until further notice."

    The Commissioner also states that schools which have not yet purchased Office 365, but intend to do so, can also "rely on the toleration." He does warn, however, that said schools "bear the financial risk" if further review and ongoing discussions with Microsoft lead to a reversal of this tolerance. In the meantime, schools that choose to use Office 365 must halt the transmission of "any kind of diagnostic data."

    Permalink to story.

    Last edited: Aug 13, 2019 at 5:38 PM
    lexster likes this.
  2. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 11,504   +5,067

    Having online connection in our schools is the biggest mistake we have ever introduced to our schools. Having our homes and schools connected is important, but not at the expense of opening the door to the rest of the world. Keeping our kids minds focused on school studies is hard enough, without all the online distractions.

    The school systems need to be confined to their own network. So online resources can be authorized without distraction from NSFW sites, games, and social media.
    lexster and ShagnWagn like this.
  3. yRaz

    yRaz Nigerian Prince Posts: 2,935   +2,255

    It's a start. I know I'm in a VERY small group of people who use Linux and all its software (GIMP, open office, ect). However, once I got the hang of things after a few weeks I actually prefer it to windows. It's much more stable and faster than windows. I also think that since technology is such a large part of our lives and everyone has a computer class every year, Linux should be part of the curriculum. Now with gaming on Linux being easier than ever I can't think of a single reason to use Windows aside from legacy programs.
  4. lexster

    lexster TS Guru Posts: 535   +265

    That group is larger than you think. For example, one of the companies I work for uses Linux exclusively for data security reasons on all of it's mission-critical systems. I personally haven't used MSOffice in almost 2 decades. Libre Office is my go-to suite and Open Office was before then.
    Underdog, cliffordcooley and yRaz like this.
  5. hahahanoobs

    hahahanoobs TS Evangelist Posts: 2,584   +931

    Cool story.
    It's not in our human nature to completely ignore a better solution.

    That kills the Linux vs Winblows debate right there, don't you agree?
  6. yRaz

    yRaz Nigerian Prince Posts: 2,935   +2,255

    I can't tell if this is sarcasm or not but I can agree both ways
  7. BrandonB

    BrandonB TS Rookie

    It is Fairly easy to put in a firewall and configure it to block sites like social Media and games and NSFW sites. So schools can easily lock down their Network to only access the required places. It can even be set to Deny all and only allow the required Data Traffic if you want to be very strict about it
  8. Danny101

    Danny101 TS Guru Posts: 819   +324

    I use Office 360 for work. Now that I think about it, I'll switch back to offline Office when this subscription is up. Or an alternative if Microsoft balks or doesn't want to provide it. This German action can be catalyst for forcing Microsoft to provide the program when it has been shown that Microsoft seeks to get rid of it.
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2019
    yRaz likes this.
  9. Uncle Al

    Uncle Al TS Evangelist Posts: 5,504   +3,897

    Amazing that the EU is way ahead of the US on all of these things .... just goes to show the influence of major corporations here and the diminished concern over individual rights ....
    Underdog and lexster like this.
  10. ypsylon

    ypsylon TS Booster Posts: 169   +57

    Yes to some extent tho.

    I know it's entirely different topic and don't want to hijack the thread at all. Take ordinary VIN number. Every car has one. There is no problem with accessing VIN-car history anywhere in Europe... except Germany (I'm not Deutsch, but I work in the industry). Legislation enforced VIN to be considered personal/privileged information which makes the most trivial info gathering about car itself (was it involved in accident, repair history) or selecting replacement parts truly arduous experience. It's perfect legislation for gangs selling botched cars for example!

    So yeah, protecting kids or general privacy I agree, but without excessively *****ic legislation. GDPR is perfect example. People were interacting between themselves for years, now when you go to (e.g.) the doctor and there is a line of people nobody calls the name of a patient, but only a number. Everybody knows each other. No number only - Number One Engage LOL! It's actually criminal offense to call somebody by name, that's the bloody idiocy of GDPR in a nutshell. Instead preventing global corporations from snooping it's as always little men at the bottom who have most problems and corporations couldn't care less (there were tons of US services which just blocked content after passing GDPR and basically said GTFO to EU viewers/customers).

    I love EU, it's great project, all my (however few) Friends are foreigners. I'll always support EU despite it faults, but as always *** politicians screw lives of ordinary people (and with rise in neo-fascist/nazis everywhere across the continent, even inside EU parliament, we haven't seen the last of that!).

    Sorry to go all bananas with long reply, but I had to put it into words. :)
    Underdog likes this.
  11. Bullwinkle M

    Bullwinkle M TS Booster Posts: 145   +74

    The problem here is that you can lie about Microsoft products all day long and get away with it without any evidence as long as your are Pro-Spyware

    Calling it safe without evidence is allowed
    Saying it is not backdoored is allowed

    Try the opposite even WITH evidence and see what happens.......


  12. lexster

    lexster TS Guru Posts: 535   +265

    That was interesting. While I think you were being a bit paranoid and you didn't present anything I would call evidence, caution IS the better part of valor. In that thread you were treated poorly and unfairly about Windows 10 security issues with generally valid concerns. They seemed to go out of their way to provoke you. Not the most amazing site in the world. That seems to be how they treat people who question their almighty "wisdom", not completely unlike another site we all know..
    yRaz likes this.
  13. fluffydestroyer

    fluffydestroyer TS Booster Posts: 88   +42

    So is it a problem for germans because of its lack of data protection in a us server or ... (tin foil hat active) germans can't gather data from a us server secretly ? I mean if the servers were on german soil I bet they would be gather data like crazy without any concerns of anything but since its on us soil...oops, can't really do anything now can they ?
  14. lexster

    lexster TS Guru Posts: 535   +265

    The problem was rather clearly stated. How are you not following the student privacy concerns?
    yRaz likes this.
  15. yRaz

    yRaz Nigerian Prince Posts: 2,935   +2,255

    To be fair, he did activate his tinfoil hat
    lexster likes this.
  16. Bullwinkle M

    Bullwinkle M TS Booster Posts: 145   +74

    Yes, I was a bit unclear about how this unfolded

    The specific link I provided did not provide "evidence" of spyware and was more of a response to others who were making allegations that Windows was "safe and secure" without providing evidence of their own

    I was referring to a much longer history of posts inferring that the only evidence available indicates a problem that is not being addressed

    such as.....

    If Bitlocker were secure (without backdoors) then why is there absolutely ZERO news reports that the FBI are having a problem accessing bitlocker drives yet there are many articles that indicate the FBI are having problems accessing other types of encryption


    If the Windows firewall were not backdoored, then why would Edward Snowden claim that he could watch you as you type and edit a secret message before you even encrypt it and send it?

    etc etc etc

    but yes, you are correct, there was no "evidence" in the link I provided and my post was unclear about that or why that post was made in the first place

  17. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 15,072   +4,080

    This is a wonderfully perceptive and idealistic approach to "modurn book larnin". The only drawback is you'd have to strip search every one of the little sh!ts at the door, and confiscate their cellphones.
  18. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 15,072   +4,080

    Maybe they're just thumbing their noses at us because of our stance on Hauwei.
  19. lexster

    lexster TS Guru Posts: 535   +265

    Don't get me wrong, I was only pointing out what I didn't see. The rest of it, I feel you and those are concerns that are worthy of examination. The way the forum members there treated you was not appropriate. That's how things roll there as of late, unfortunately.
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2019
  20. lexster

    lexster TS Guru Posts: 535   +265

    Or they're doing it for the reasons stated, student privacy and security.
  21. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 11,504   +5,067

    Yeah that would be a problem. A neat trick though would be to add a cell tower, forcing all phones through the schools network. It would take some doing but would be manageable.
  22. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 15,072   +4,080

    Be careful Cliff, there will be NSA recruiters pounding on your door for bandying around ideas like that. Who knows, maybe they'll even start you a grade or three up the food chain...(y) (Y);)
    cliffordcooley likes this.
  23. captaincranky

    captaincranky TechSpot Addict Posts: 15,072   +4,080

    Once they reach the, (so called), "age of reason", human beings, (or groups of them), don't do anything without ulterior motive.

    FWIW, Germany has been one of Hauwei's staunchest supporters. the gist of which has been, "screw you Trump", we're going with Huawei for our 5G infrastructure, because they're way ahead of anyone else..

    M$' approach to data harvesting with Windows 10, for me at least, doesn't inspire much confidence that my privacy would be sacrosanct in any of their other softwares..

    And as far as the cloud goes, it's raw, unadulterated garbage, Apple proved that when they started sacking people's music files on a whim.

    The school needs it's own server, with appropriate control measures strictly enforced. Cliff could even implement his proxy cell tower solution to it
    Last edited: Jul 16, 2019
  24. lexster

    lexster TS Guru Posts: 535   +265

    Your statement makes an assessment of the human race that leaves much to be desired.

    The cell tower thing would work only if you block out all other towers in the area, which would be impossible without interfering with the cell connections of everyone who isn't a student in the same area.
  25. cliffordcooley

    cliffordcooley TS Guardian Fighter Posts: 11,504   +5,067

    Directional signaling could be used to box in the school grounds. Phones will always connect to the strongest signal. If done correctly anyone outside the school grounds would connect to the usual towers.

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