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Microsoft Makes Changes to Its Digital Action Tracking Tools

In late 2019, Microsoft released new tools that would allow employers to track employee “productivity” through individual activity levels. Advertised as providing employers with “visibility into how [its] organization works,” the tools aggregated email use and network connectivity into a percentage to measure office productivity. These reports showed the number of days an employee sent emails, used chat, included “mentions” in emails, reflected who spoke less in group chats, who sent fewer emails, and who did not collaborate by sharing documents.

Critics immediately raised concerns about employee privacy. Microsoft initially responded by denying that these tools monitored employees. This response did not allay critics’ fears. Wolfie Christl, an Austrian privacy activist, was one of the most vocal critics against the new tools. This month, Microsoft announced changes to the service and apologized for the feature. Microsoft credited Christl as the first person to sound the alarm. With the new changes, individual names will be removed from the productivity score. In its announcement, Microsoft stated, “Going forward, the communications, meetings, content collaboration, teamwork, and mobility measures in productivity score will only aggregate data at the organization level.” Most importantly, “No one in the organization will be able to use the productivity scored to access data about how an individual user is using apps and services in Microsoft 365.”