Microsoft Designs Creepy Employee Surveillance Tools, then Backtracks

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella has helped fuel a rebound by the technology giant which has climbed back to the ranks of the world's most valuable companies
STEPHEN BRASHEAR/AFP

Microsoft recently launched a new “Productivity Score” feature as part of Microsoft 365 which tracks workers’ productivity. Now, the company has agreed to remove user names from the feature following backlash from privacy experts. One researcher called the feature a “full-fledged workplace surveillance tool.”

GeekWire reports that tech giant Microsoft introduced a new “Productivity Score” feature to Microsoft 365 in October which gave companies data to understand how workers are using different forms of technology and how much work they are producing. Now, Microsoft has agreed to remove the ability for companies to see data about individual users in order to address concerns from privacy experts that Microsoft had essentially rolled out a tool for employers to spy on workers.

Jared Spataro, Microsoft 365 corporate vice president, wrote in a post: “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. 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.”

Wolfie Christl of the independent Cracked Labs digital research institute in Vienna, Austria, wrote after the launch of the new feature that Microsoft has turned Microsoft 365 into a “full-fledged workplace surveillance tool.” Christl wrote: “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.”

Another recent patent filing from Microsoft appears to show designs for a system that would monitor employees’ body language and facial expressions during work meetings and give events a “quality score.” The tool could be deployed in real-world meetings or online virtual meetings according to the patent.

Lucas Nolan is a reporter for Breitbart News covering issues of free speech and online censorship. Follow him on Twitter @LucasNolan or contact via secure email at the address lucasnolan@protonmail.com

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