Microsoft Reverses Course on Productivity Tool

Dec 03, 2020 at 06:15 am by Warlord720

Just when you thought it was safe to start trusting Microsoft (MS) again… they come out with a new productivity score… i.e. employee tracking tool… in an update that pretty much undid all the goodwill the company has tried to create in the past few years.

Of course, some folks will never trust the Redmond company to put users first but let’s take stock of what Microsoft did after all the feedback (blowback) on privacy concerns. As the headline says… Microsoft reversed course… at least on any identifiable-employee-level data claiming they will modify the thing to anonymize said data.

It’s great to see MS step up and do so quickly… the next day after all the fuss. In typical corporate fashion, they released a blog post basically saying that they have heard you, are sorry and will take steps to eliminate identifiable user data. It’s got a little murky here as it seems the tool is not going away… just getting re-tooled to remove identifiers.

In a video Transform your organization with Microsoft Productivity Score, some very smart and accomplished people go about explaining how great and in-depth this tool is. For the sake of transparency, this tech writer did not finish the entire video as it was getting difficult to keep the eyes open and the brain retaining pertinent information.

Their blog post about the debacle states that “during preview, we added a feature that showed end-user names and associated actions over a 28-day period”.

THAT freaks me out. I’m not a privacy nut when it comes to anonymized data, but I’ve been a manager of some sort most of my adult life. In that form, the tool would be used to spy on employees and it would be abused by some less emotionally intelligent supervisors. This is putting it mildly.

The part that I have difficulty with is the fact that during the entire development cycle at MS not one single person thought this was a bad idea without being anonymized. An idea that might blow up after release. There are privacy foundations that exist to combat this very type of invasive tool and the use of user-level identifiable data.

It was a line in the cyber-sand that many privacy advocates had no problem in crossing and challenging. It’s intended use be damned. Its actual use WILL have consequences.

You don’t throw a piece of raw meat in front of a dog and expect it to ignore it.

In my younger days as a banker and supervisor, I might have easily abused such tools had they existed. And I probably would do so innocently or at least so in my mind, as I respect individual privacy. The trouble is back then, in my early twenties, I might not have possessed enough maturity to not abuse the tool.  I might have seen it as a righteous use without the tempering of experience.

You can tell in the “Transform” video that the MS devs were proud of their product and rightfully so. It just seems they were blinded by what the data could do versus its impact on privacy. Properly anonymized it could be a treasure trove of management data the devs could be proud of.

It’s just a bit disturbing for people that highly intelligent to overlook or not see this freight train coming down the tracks. Once again, no matter the reason, we cannot trust Microsoft to put the average user first.

Innocent as it may seem or claim to be… the fact that it happened at all will be hard to forget.

M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord, is an international award-winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director, and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years.  Now retired, M.D. is currently working part-time on writing and select character development projects. You can learn more about MD on his website

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