Last year, Microsoft added a ‘privacy score’ feature to its Microsoft 365 suite of software tools — formerly called Office 365. Now, researchers are criticizing the tool for enabling workplace surveillance and allowing companies to track employees at an individual level.
According to The Guardian, Microsoft says these tools provide “visibility into how your organization works” by showing aggregate information about everything employees do, from email use to network connectivity. However, the default settings allow managers to drill down into data on individual employees, looking at information about who did — or didn’t — participate in group chats, sent fewer emails or contributed less to shared documents.
This is so problematic at many levels:
– Managers evaluating individual-level employee data is a no go
– Any evaluation of group 'productivity' data can also shift power from employees to organizations
– Employee self control via MyAnalytics is the first step to normalization
— Wolfie Christl (@WolfieChristl) November 24, 2020
Austrian researcher Wolfie Christl first brought the privacy issues of Microsoft’s productivity score tool to light in a series of tweets examining the capabilities of productivity score and what it can do. Christl called the tool “problematic,” noting the evaluation of productivity data can shift power from employees to organizations. Further, Christl called employee control via the ‘MyAnalytics’ tool a “first step to normalization.”
“Employers are increasingly exploiting metadata logged by software and devices for performance analytics and algorithmic control,” Christl tweeted. “[Microsoft] is providing the tools for it. Practices we know from software development (and factories and call centres) are expanded to all white-collar work.”
In a statement to The Guardian, a Microsoft spokesperson said:
“Productivity score is an opt-in experience that gives IT administrators insights about technology and infrastructure usage. Insights are intended to help organizations make the most of their technology investments by addressing common pain points like long boot times, inefficient document collaboration, or poor network connectivity. Insights are shown in aggregate over a 28-day period and are provided at the user level so that an IT admin can provide technical support and guidance.”
However, Microsoft’s response has not reassured critics, including Basecamp co-founder David Heinemeier Hansson, who tweeted, “The word dystopian is not nearly strong enough to describe the fresh hellhole Microsoft just opened up.”
Considering that some employers ramped up employee surveillance alongside the increase in remote work during the pandemic, this tool could be an easy way for organizations using Microsoft 365 to monitor what employees are doing. Unfortunately, these stats likely won’t meaningfully reflect worker productivity and instead will show how much they make use of Microsoft products. That won’t stop employers from conflating the two and dogging ‘unproductive’ employees.