Microsoft Will Fix the Creepiest Part of Its ‘Productivity Score’ Thing

Microsoft Will Fix the Creepiest Part of Its ‘Productivity Score’ Thing
Illustration: Olivier Douliery, Getty Images

After Microsoft caused an uproar with its very weird, very invasive “Productivity Score” tool, which essentially spied on Microsoft 365 users’ activity and reported it back to their employers, the company has walked back the creepiest part of that feature.

The Productivity Score is a new tool turned on by default for businesses that use Microsoft 365 services like Word, Outlook, Skype, and Excel. The tool allows employers to keep track of what workers are doing in those services across 73 metrics, including how many times they turn on their cameras during meetings and how many emails they send per day. Very cool, very normal.

Critics called it “workplace surveillance,” and for good reason: Employees couldn’t opt out (only employers could) and their information was shared at the user level, not in the aggregate, so bosses would know exactly what each worker was up to.

Now, Microsoft says it has considered the privacy implications and will be removing usernames from the feature.

“Going forward, the communications, meetings, content collaboration, teamwork, and mobility measures in Productivity Score will only aggregate data at the organisation level — providing a clear measure of organisation-level adoption of key features,” Microsoft 365 Corporate Vice President Jared Spataro said in a Tuesday blog post announcing the changes. “No one in the organisation will be able to use Productivity Score to access data about how an individual user is using apps and services in Microsoft 365.”

As many of us have adjusted to a work-from-home lifestyle, it’s clear that corporations are trying to monitor employee behaviour with a variety of strategies, including meeting policies that require those dialling in to keep their cameras turned on, software that monitors key strokes, and products that use employees’ webcams to take photos of them while they’re on shift to ensure they’re at their computers. Microsoft 365’s Productivity Score seemed like the culmination of the normalization of over-reaching corporate culture.

But, Microsoft says, that wasn’t its intent! Which, uh, OK.

“We’re modifying the user interface to make it clearer that Productivity Score is a measure of organizational adoption of technology — and not individual user behaviour,” Spataro continued. “Over the last few days, we’ve realised that there was some confusion about the capabilities of the product. Productivity Score produces a score for the organisation and was never designed to score individual users.”

Microsoft is positioning the Productivity Score as a way to help IT departments more quickly and easily keep track of which devices need servicing, which does actually make sense. But the rollout could’ve been a little less creepy.