Microsoft has numerous featured available in Microsoft 365, but one specific tool has come under criticism today for allowing “workplace surveillance.” Called “productivity score,” the feature gives admins on Microsoft 365 to track employees activity.
Of course, tracking employees is something many companies may do across a workforce. However, productivity score in Microsoft 365 tracks the activity of workers on an individual level.
Microsoft says the features, which landed in 2019, allows customers to have “visibility into how your organization works.” It highlights information about how employees operate, including email use, connectivity uptime, and shows a percentage for productivity.
Reports suggest the tool also allows admin to find more individual data by default. It can highlight which employees are not spending time in group chats on Teams, who sends fewer emails, who collaborates and shares less, and generally who seems less productive.
The ability of productivity score in Microsoft 365 has caused controversy:
“This is so problematic at many levels,” tweeted the Austrian researcher Wolfie Christl.
“Employers are increasingly exploiting metadata logged by software and devices for performance analytics and algorithmic control,” Christl says. “MS is providing the tools for it. Practices we know from software development (and factories and call centers) are expanded to all white-collar work.”
Esoteric metrics based on analyzing extensive data about employee activities has been mostly the domain of fringe software vendors. Now it's built into MS 365.
A new feature to calculate 'productivity scores' turns Microsoft 365 into an full-fledged workplace surveillance tool: pic.twitter.com/FC3N6KkIR3
— Wolfie Christl (@WolfieChristl) November 24, 2020
Microsoft responded with the following statement defending the feature:
“Productivity score is an opt-in experience that gives IT administrators insights about technology and infrastructure usage. Insights are intended to help organizations make the most of their technology investments by addressing common pain points like long boot times, inefficient document collaboration, or poor network connectivity. Insights are shown in aggregate over a 28-day period and are provided at the user level so that an IT admin can provide technical support and guidance.
“We are committed to privacy as a fundamental element of productivity score… productivity score is not a work monitoring tool. Productivity score is about discovering new ways of working, providing your people with great collaboration and technology experiences … For example, to help maintain privacy and trust, the user data provided in productivity score is aggregated over a 28-day period.”