What just happened? Microsoft has responded to the backlash against its new Productivity Score tool in Microsoft 365 that essentially allowed managers to monitor employees' activities. The Redmond firm is removing usernames from the feature, meaning companies will no longer be able to access information about individuals; instead, it will "only aggregate data at the organization level."
Rolled out in October, the Productivity Score tool is turned on by default so businesses can track workers across Word, Outlook, Skype, Excel, and other Microsoft 365 services. It generates scores out of 100 across 73 metrics, including the number of emails sent per day, teamwork, how many times cameras are enabled during meetings, how often workers use chat and mentions in emails, and other invasive details.
Having the equivalent of a manager sitting on your shoulder all day watching everything you do isn't exactly an appealing prospect, though many companies are looking at ways of keeping tabs on employees working from home. Wolfie Christl of the independent Cracked Labs digital research institute in Vienna, Austria, called Productivity Score a "full-fledged workplace surveillance tool." Microsoft claimed otherwise, but let's face it, it's hard to think of a better description.
Employers/managers can analyze employee activities at the individual level (!), for example, the number of days an employee has been sending emails, using the chat, using 'mentions' in emails etc.— Wolfie Christl (@WolfieChristl) November 24, 2020
Microsoft promo video:https://t.co/68sCJaFs9f
Via Heise:https://t.co/hklmHtbF75 pic.twitter.com/Fabgi6koTN
The outcry seems to have caught the Windows maker by surprise, and it is now changing the tool so it no longer includes usernames, relying instead on "device-level identifiers." Microsoft 365 Corporate Vice President Jared Spataro explained in a blog post:
"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."
"Over the last few days, we've realized that there was some confusion about the capabilities of the product. Productivity Score produces a score for the organization and was never designed to score individual users."
The move will doubtlessly be welcomed by workers, though Microsoft doesn't appear done with surveillance-like office technology. A recently discovered patent from the company described an "insight computer system" that could monitor meetings and score them based on body language, facial expressions, room temperature, time of day, and the number of people in attendance.