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In a Swift Turnaround, Microsoft Bows To Privacy Advocates, Removes Individual User Names From Its Productivity Score

3 min read
Dec 3, 2020
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Microsoft has announced that they will remove individual user names from their Productivity Score. They will also emphasize that the Productivity Score is meant to measure the adoption of technology by an organization and not the behavior of individual users. The Productivity Score is available to businesses using Microsft 365 and Office 365.

While the Productivity Score can be very helpful at an organizational level, critics and privacy advocates cried foul when the company announced data would also be available on individual users. They said that this would allow businesses to identify employees who weren’t working enough or using tools the right way. Critics claimed that this amounts to workplace surveillance.

In the initial Productivity Score announcement, Microsoft attempted to distance themselves from the idea that Productivity Score was a work monitoring tool. However, they also basically acknowledged as much by saying businesses have a “critical need to maintain users’ trust while using those data insights responsibly.”

Before this recent change, 73 different pieces of an individual’s data were available to businesses using the service. These included the number of days employees were using different programs, how often they had their camera on during meetings, and the number of days an email was sent.

After the outcry from the initial announcement, Microsoft quickly changed course.

“At Microsoft, we believe that data-driven insights are crucial to empowering people and organizations to achieve more. We also believe that privacy is a human right, and we’re deeply committed to the privacy of every person who uses our products,” Jared Spataro, Corporate Vice President for Microsoft 365, wrote when announcing the new changes. “We appreciate the feedback we’ve heard over the last few days and are moving quickly to respond by removing user names entirely from the product. This change will ensure that Productivity Score can’t be used to monitor individual employees.”

While Microsft has pulled back in favor of the privacy rights of employees this time, the trends in the business community are going in another direction. During the pandemic, the sales of employee monitoring and tracking software have surged. Demand was up 55% in June of 2020 compared to before the COVID-19 outbreak. This includes software that allows for webcam access, screenshots, keystroke tracking, and other products that make it possible to record nearly everything an employee does on their computer.

Just yesterday, Google was found to have broken labor laws in the United States by spying on workers. According to the complaint filed by the National Labor Relations Board, the company spied on employees who were organizing worker protests and then fired two of them. If Google doesn’t settle the complaint, it will eventually go before a judge. If they lose the case, Google could have to rehire the fired employees and/or pay back wages.