The slightly creepy “Productivity Score” may not be all that’s in store for Microsoft 365 users, judging by a trawl of Redmond’s patents.
It all sounds innocent enough until you read about the requirement for “quality parameters” to be collected from “meeting quality monitoring devices”, which might give some pause for thought.
Productivity Score relies on metrics captured within Microsoft 365 to assess how productive a company and its workers are. Metrics include the take-up of messaging platforms versus email. And though Microsoft has been quick to insist the motives behind the tech are pure, others have cast more of a jaundiced eye over the technology.
Meeting Insights would take things further by plugging data from a variety of devices into an algorithm in order to score the meeting. Sampling of environmental data such as air quality and the like is all well and good, but proposed sensors such as “a microphone that may, for instance, detect speech patterns consistent with boredom, fatigue, etc” as well as measuring other metrics, such as how long a person spends speaking, could also provide data to be stirred into the mix.
And if that doesn’t worry attendees, how about some more metrics to measure how focused a person is? Are they taking care of emails, messaging or enjoying a surf of the internet when they should be paying attention to the speaker? Heck, if one is taking data from a user’s computer, one could even consider the physical location of the device.
Talking to The Reg, one privacy campaigner who asked to remain anonymous said of tools such as Productivity Score and the Meeting Insight Computing System patent: “There is a simple dictum in privacy: you cannot lose data you don’t have. In other words, if you collect it you have to protect it, and that sort of data is risky to start with.
“Who do you trust? The correct answer is ‘no one’.”
Microsoft says it will make changes in its new Productivity Score feature, including removing the ability for companies to see data about individual users, to address concerns from privacy experts that the tech giant had effectively rolled out a new tool for snooping on workers.
“Going forward, the communications, meetings, content collaboration, teamwork, and mobility measures in Productivity Score will only aggregate data at the organization level—providing a clear measure of organization-level adoption of key features,” wrote Jared Spataro, Microsoft 365 corporate vice president, in a post this morning. “No one in the organization will be able to use Productivity Score to access data about how an individual user is using apps and services in Microsoft 365.”
The company rolled out its new “Productivity Score” feature as part of Microsoft 365 in late October. It gives companies data to understand how workers are using and adopting different forms of technology. It made headlines over the past week as reports surfaced that the tool lets managers see individual user data by default.
As originally rolled out, Productivity Score turned Microsoft 365 into a “full-fledged workplace surveillance tool,” wrote Wolfie Christl of the independent Cracked Labs digital research institute in Vienna, Austria. “Employers/managers can analyze employee activities at the individual level (!), for example, the number of days an employee has been sending emails, using the chat, using ‘mentions’ in emails etc.”
Spataro wrote this morning, “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.”