Microsoft has come under fire from privacy campaigners for facilitating “workplace surveillance” with their new productivity feature.
The campaigners warn that Microsoft’s “productivity score” feature allows managers to track individual employee activity via Microsoft 365.
According to a blogpost from Microsoft, the tools have been created to “provide you visibility into how your organisation works” by compiling data on network connectivity and email use. This information is then turned into an overall percentage figure for office productivity.
The reports also allow managers to inspect the productivity levels of individual employees, singling out those who contribute less to group chats, send fewer emails, or fail to provide an input on shared documents.
Austrian researcher Wolfie Christl called the productivity score feature “problematic at many levels”.
“Employers are increasingly exploiting metadata logged by software and devices for performance analytics and algorithmic control,” Christl added. “MS is providing the tools for it. Practices we know from software development (and factories and call centres) are expanded to all white-collar work.”
A spokesperson for Microsoft said: “Productivity score is an opt-in experience that gives IT administrators insights about technology and infrastructure usage. Insights are intended to help organisations 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.”
Corporate vice-president for Microsoft 365, Jared Spataro, said: “We are committed to privacy as a fundamental element of productivity score.
“Let me be clear: 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 the productivity score is aggregated over a 28-day period.”
However, many critics are not convinced by Microsoft’s response. Co-founder of the Basecamp office productivity suite, David Heinemeier Hansson, said: “The word dystopian is not nearly strong enough to describe the fresh hellhole Microsoft just opened up.
“Just as the reputation of a new and better company was being built, they detonate it with the most invasive workplace surveillance scheme yet to hit mainstream.
“Being under constant surveillance in the workplace is psychological abuse,” he added. “Having to worry about looking busy for the stats is the last thing we need to inflict on anyone right now.”
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