Critics had labelled Microsoft’s new Productivity Score a ‘surveillance tool’.
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Microsoft has dialed back components of its Productivity Score tool for Microsoft 365 apps following concerns about user privacy.

The company faced backlash over a feature rolled out in October that allowed organizations to see how frequently a user interacts with Microsoft 365 apps over a 28-day period. Called Productivity Score, the tool assigns each 365 user in an organization a score out of 100 across categories including communication, meetings, collaboration and teamwork – which can be viewed by admins.

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Critics argued that Productivity Score was essentially a workplace surveillance tool that would allow organizations to keep tabs on how often individual employees did things like send email and engaged with chats on Microsoft Teams. Of particular concern was that Productivity Score identified each employee by their username, sparking arguments about user privacy.

Microsoft has now pared-back some of the tool’s capabilities, starting with the removal of usernames. This means that organizations will no longer be able to identify the productivity score of individual employees relating to communications, meetings, content collaboration, teamwork, and mobility measures, with the tool instead only able to aggregate data at an organization label.

In a blog post announcing the changes, Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365, said the changes had been made in response to feedback about Productivity Score – which is in preview – and “confusion about the capabilities of the product”.

Spataro said: “Productivity Score produces a score for the organization and was never designed to score individual users. We’ll make that clearer in the user interface and improve our privacy disclosures in the product to ensure that IT admins know exactly what we do and don’t track.”

Going forward, organizations won’t be able to use Productivity Score to access data about how individual users are using Microsoft 365 services, Spataro added. The CVP argued that the tool was never intended to be used for the purposes of employee surveillance, but instead as a means for IT teams to glean data insights into how Microsoft 365 apps were adopted and used across an organization, and help employees get the most out of the product suite.

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Productivity Score also includes measures for Microsoft 365 App health, network connectivity, and endpoint analytics. Spataro noted that these don’t include usernames and instead “use device-level identifiers to help IT teams troubleshoot endpoint, network, and app issues.”

“At Microsoft, we believe that data-driven insights are crucial to empowering people and organizations to achieve more,” said Spataro.

“Productivity Score is designed to help IT administrators measure and manage adoption so their people can get the most out of Microsoft 365…We always strive to get the balance right, but if and when we miss, we will listen carefully and make appropriate adjustments.”