Microsoft Teams tracks and records users – WTF?

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A couple of weeks ago Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella declared, in an interview with the Financial Timesthat Teams could soon be a digital platform as important as the internet browser.

Yes, Microsoft Teams. A separate platform for collecting personal data through communications.

I thought of all those working-from-home employees, real people who have been thrust onto Teams. I wondered if they like it. I also wondered just how much it records what they do.

You see, as a part of Microsoft moving its customers to 365, it’s been planning a unification of systems to match Facebook, Twitter and Google. One tech-critic even calls it  “a full-blown workplace surveillance tool.”.

Teaming With Information.

As far back as June, Microsoft explained in somewhat legalistic terms that it’s happily recording so much Teams activity for the benefit of employers and it’s up to them what they do with it. 

Sample wording from Redmond’s fine lawyers: “Our customers are controllers for the data provided to Microsoft, as set forth in the Online Services Terms, and they determine legal bases of processing.”

From what I could see, Teams hoovers up all your chats, voicemails, shared meetings, files, transcriptions, your profile details including your email address and phone number, and a detailed analysis of what you were wearing on the call, and if you are wearing pajama pants. (I may have made up that last one.)

Cut to September and Microsoft offered a little more about the Teams Activity Report. Here’s a sentence that’s unsurprising but still a touch uncomfortable: “The table gives you a breakdown of usage by user.”

Everything from how many meetings that user organized to how many urgent messages they sent is recorded. Separate numbers are given for scheduled meetings and those that were ad hoc. Even individuals’ screen-share time is there.

It’s remarkably detailed.

I confess that just staring at this made me spin my new swivel chair several times in wonder. Microsoft is measuring privacy settings, device types, time stamps, reasons why someone may have been blocked, and “the number of messages a user posted in a private chat.”

And, as far as I could tell, employees don’t have too much say in all this. They’re forced onto a particular platform without much control over what that platform may record about them personally, with their employer along with Microsoft being the potential beneficiary.

Not Everyone On The Teams Is Happy.

Some employees are clearly worried about the extent of Teams’ potential surveillance work. A Reddit thread last year offered a small glimpse into employees’ concerns. Sample: “Since moving to full-time remote working, I can’t shake feeling my boss is using Teams to monitor and evaluate our productivity. Is this something I should be concerned about or am I paranoid?”

Could it be both?

I understand there’s a belief that the more data you have, the wiser you’ll be. But I couldn’t help asking Microsoft whether there were any causes for employees’ concern here. For example, does Teams really record the actual messages a user posts in a Teams chat? I also asked whether there was anything an individual employee can do to enhance their own Teams privacy.

A company spokesperson told me: “At Microsoft, we believe that data-driven insights are crucial to empowering people and organizations to achieve more.”

Ah, it’s all about achievement? A noble pursuit, surely.

But Is This Good Teams Management?

I can’t help wondering, though, whether all this data digestion reflects an obsessive mentality that may be the opposite of both productivity and good management.

The most detailed analytics, if widely disseminated, could be manna for the micro-manager and a certain sort of purgatory for the manager who believes there’s a little more instinct in leading and motivating human employees.

There’s a talent in appreciating what employees actually do, as opposed to what the data might “say” they do.

Could Teams be as big as the internet browser? Look at all the data browsers collect. Hmmm.

I wonder how many employees — and how many companies — currently know just how much information is now housed in servers dedicated to Microsoft Teams.

Be Safe – Backup Your Data Regularly!


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