The rollout of new Microsoft 365 features to track productivity, which would monitor 73 pieces of “granular data” about workers, was meant to be a boon time for the technology company. But it quickly turned into a nightmare. Announced in October, and criticised heavily by technology researcher Wolfie Christl in November, the feature – Microsoft Productivity Score – was drastically scaled back this month.
The incident has proven embarrassing for Microsoft, and made people more aware than ever of the data its products collect on users. That includes Microsoft Teams, its productivity and communications tool which rivals Slack. If you’ve watched the Microsoft Productivity Score imbroglio and want to put limits on the data Teams collects on you, there are some ways to wrest back control.
Teams’ data collection
Microsoft Teams, like Skype for Business, collects three types of data about the app: what it calls census data, usage data, and error reporting data. So-called census data includes information about your device, operating system and user language, as well as generating a specific user ID that is hashed (or protected) twice, in order to not link it to a certain individual.
Some of the data is collected as standard, while others require opting in or out of sharing information with the company. Census data is collected by default, and can’t be opted out of – though Microsoft is at pains to say none of the information collected can identify an organisation or individual user.
In addition, Microsoft collects usage data, including the number of messages sent, calls and meetings joined, and the name of your organisation as registered with Teams. It also tracks when things go wrong, in order to improve services. Much of this performance collected by all the apps you use.
Microsoft also gathers data on your profile – including your email address, profile picture and phone number – and the content of your meetings, including shared files, recordings and transcripts, which are stored in the cloud for users’ personal use. That data is retained by Microsoft “until the user stops using Microsoft Teams, or until the user deletes personal data”. For individual users, data is deleted within 30 days of the user deleting the local versions of their data.
Where is your data legally stored?
Teams operates across the world, and across jurisdictions with different standards for how data should be handled. If you want to see where your individual data is physically held, you can visit the Microsoft 365 admin centre, then click Settings > Organization profile, and scroll down to Data location.
What your bosses can see
Microsoft also allows company administrators to see insights into how their workers use Teams. The Microsoft Teams admin centre – which is separate from the Microsoft 365 admin centre – allows businesses “to better understand usage patterns, help make business decisions, and inform training and communication efforts,” Microsoft claims. Administrators can see up to 19 different types of user activity data.
But for some, that’s too intrusive: administrators could theoretically produce a report on the way individuals use Teams, including the number of messages users post on any given day, the amount of time they spend on video and audio calls, whether you’ve read messages but not responded to them, and when you were last active on Teams. There doesn’t seem to be a way for users to opt out of this data collection from their company administrators – though many companies don’t seem to realise this kind of data is available.
Calm your notifications
In high-volume, high-user Teams, the number of notifications pinging in the bottom right of your screen can drive you to distraction – as well as rendering a fifth of your monitor unusable. Take back control by redrawing the reasons for receiving notifications by clicking on the three dots at the top right of any Team, selecting Channel notifications, and either turning them off entirely, or select “Custom”.
You’ll want to turn “All new posts” off to start with, to give you some peace and quiet. But you may also want to reduce Channel mentions (when someone tags in a channel using the @Channel name) from “Banner and feed” to “Only show in feed” to remove the ugly pop-ups.
Another bugbear on Teams can come if you’ve been invited to a pre-arranged meeting, or left a meeting partway through, but still receive notifications every time a message is typed into the chat box of the ongoing meeting. As of publication, this was an issue users highlighted as a problem, but for which there isn’t yet a workable fix. One temporary, if inelegant solution, is to change your status to “Do not disturb”, which tamps down all notifications. You can do that by clicking on your profile picture on the main page of Teams, and going down to “Available”, and changing it to “Do not disturb”.
If you’re worried about shutting yourself off entirely, it is possible to offer some people a peek through the notification barrier. In Settings > Privacy, click Manage priority access and type in the names of people from whom you want notifications – useful if you’re worried your boss might think you’ve gone AWOL.
One of the first things many people do on WhatsApp is to turn off read receipts, so they don’t feel pressured into responding to personal chat messages as soon as they see them. You can do this in Teams, too: go to Settings > Privacy and untoggled the “Read receipts” radio button for some peace of mind and space to think.
But you should limit access in another way, not just people knowing when you’re online and when you’ve read something: if you haven’t already, ask your organisation to turn on multi-factor authentication on your account, to add an extra layer of protection. (It goes without saying you should be using a strong, unique password and a password manager in general).
You may also want safe spaces to talk about work away from your bosses’ glare – the digital equivalent of the snatched chat around the watercooler, or putting the world to rights down the pub. While we’d always recommend you do so on a different app or service that isn’t ultimately overseen by your company, so they can’t ever see the information, you can have some semblance of privacy in Teams.
Setting up private channels is possible by any user who is a member of a specific team, and allows you limit access to only certain members of a team. In your chosen team, go to the channels section, and click on the three dots. Select Add channel, then under Privacy, select Private. You can then select the specific people you’d like to add to the team – up to 250 people. The channel creator is the only person who can add or remove people from the private channel, and any files or messages sent in that private channel aren’t accessible to anyone outside it. Just keep in mind that anything you do on a work system, or network, could be traced back to you.
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