Microsoft 365, a line of online subscription services offered by Microsoft to better collaborate in your workspace, is being called out for being a corporate privacy invader.
The revelation is quite shocking, as well as concerning!
Released in 2019, the Redmond Washington-based tech giant describes Microsoft 365’s ‘productivity score’ as a set of tools designed to provide users ‘visibility into how their organisation works’. Basically, it lets managers drill down on data aggregated from individual employees about their group chat conversations, emails, network connectivity, etc. and estimate their so-called productivity levels at work.
Now, seeing how this option can be overly invasive and in turn give employers the chance to exploit their employees based on their activity levels logged in the software, many privacy activists are currently raising the alarm about it.
For instance, Wolfie Christl, an Austrian researcher, tweeted out about this feature saying that it is problematic at several levels.
But, Microsoft, on the other hand, believes otherwise. Taking note of the situation, a company spokesperson said that the ‘productivity score’ feature allows IT administrators insights to receive important insights about technology and infrastructure usage.
He also said that the insights are provided at the user level only because an IT admin can use it to provide technical support and guidance.
Microsoft 365 Not A Work Monitoring Tool, Says Microsoft
Jared Spataro, the Corporate Vice-President of Microsoft 365, commenting about the recent uproar about their software invading employee privacy in an online documentation wrote that the company is committed to privacy as a “fundamental element of productivity score.”
According to Spataro, productivity score should not be branded as a work monitoring tool because they intended it to be a feature which allows users to discover new ways of collaboration. Furthermore, he said that the user data provided in the feature is aggregated over a 28-day period in order to maintain privacy and trust.
The responses from Microsoft, however, have failed to appease the critics as they believe that Microsoft 365, at the end of the day, does record individual employee activity and thus belongs to the category of the much-hated work monitoring tools itself.
David Heinemeier Hansson, Co-Founder of Basecamp, which is an office productivity suite, in a tweet mentioned how being under constant surveillance in a workplace equals psychological abuse, and Microsoft just opened a fresh hellhole for it.
That being said, in the grand scheme of things, this feature of Microsoft 365 is nothing new. Employee monitoring has existed for years. According to Javvad Malik, security awareness advocate at KnowBe4, the main reason the privacy concern has been brought up in the case of Microsoft 365 is that it provides managers with rich data.
Before the existence of this feature, employers or managers haven’t always been very well-equipped to interpret the data provided by other similar tools, and thus they didn’t know what to do with it. But now, with the productivity score, managers can assess the competence of employees with numerous metrics which is wholly inappropriate on many grounds.
Employee Monitoring and Tracking: The New Normal
Lastly, while it could sound harsh, employee monitoring and tracking are the new normal. A recently conducted survey showed about the searches for tools similar to Microsoft 365 skyrocketed by a whopping 51% since the pandemic.
The COVID-19 pandemic forced numerous companies worldwide to adapt to remote working, which now brings about the emergence of these tools. But nonetheless, it is definitely not a fix for employee loyalty.
The fact that an organisation needs to rely on surveillance technologies suggests that there exists a wide gap of trust between the different tiers of the management and that it must be addressed right away.
What are your thoughts about workplace collaboration tools like Microsoft 365? Do you think they add to employee productivity or toxic work culture? Let us know in the comments down below. We will keep you updated on all future developments. Until then, stay tuned.