Microsoft’s “Productivity Score” Feature Enables Workplace Surveillance

The episode “Email Surveillance” from NBC mokumentary sitcom The Office seems have to torn the very fabric of reel’ity and entered reality. American tech giant Microsoft has come under fire for rolling out its new “Productivity Score” feature this month, an odd tool that allows bosses to track workers’ productivity.

The issue was raised by Wolfie Christl, a researcher with Austria-based digital rights non-profit Cracked Labs.

Enables Workplace Surveillance

Microsoft Workplace Surveillance

Microsoft Workplace Surveillance

According to Microsoft, this new feature is designed to help organizations speed up digital-transformation projects during the pandemic, which has forced more than a quarter of the globe’s working population to work remotely. Productivity Score allows managers to track an employee’s productivity based on 73 metrics. These include the number of emails sent, the number of Teams meetings attended, and the number of files read or edited. These metrics can also show how often the worker has their camera on during meetings and how many people emails are being sent to.

Microsoft’s Workplace Surveillance

Microsoft’s latest workplace surveillance tool has drawn fierce criticism from privacy advocates around the world.

“This is so problematic at many levels,” tweeted the Austrian researcher Wolfie Christl, who raised alarm about the feature.

“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 centers) are expanded to all white-collar work.”

Microsoft let out a statement saying that: “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,” wrote Jared Spataro, the corporate vice-president for Microsoft 365, in the online documentation. “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 productivity score is aggregated over a 28-day period.”

Instances of workplace surveillance have increased in recent years. The trend will uptick as organizations swing to remote work in the future.

Jane Harper
Writer. Human resources expert and consultant. Follow @thehrdigest on Twitter

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