Microsoft on Tuesday removed a feature that shared detailed information about how remote employees worked, responding to public backlash about the Productivity Score tool.
The feature was part of a suite of tools in Microsoft Teams that give employers insight into employee behaviour, but some said monitoring individual data was too invasive.
"We appreciate the feedback we've heard over the last few days and are moving quickly to respond by removing user names entirely from the product. This change will ensure that Productivity Score can't be used to monitor individual employees," Jared Spataro, corporate vice president for Microsoft 365, wrote in a blog post.
While the company will no longer give managers access to how their individual employees use Microsoft Teams, it will continue collecting that data. It will be scrubbed of user names and shared "at the organization level" with managers, the company said.
The removed feature had ranked individual employees on an 800-point scale, assigning values to everyday workplace norms like communication, teamwork, and network connectivity. Microsoft determined how employees were doing in each category based on "key activities," including sending emails, responding to messages, or writing internal company posts.
But the tool went further, sharing smaller data points, like whether staffers switched on their camera or shared their screen during meetings. It would also track their "mobility," logging the percentage of time they used Microsoft's desktop or mobile apps, perhaps giving managers insight into whether a person was glued to the chair in their home office. Bosses would get readouts of each employee's score on 28- and 180-day cycles.
The company said on Tuesday that it would continue using its 800-point scale, but the data from individuals will be obscured. On Wednesday, Microsoft did not reply to a request for clarification on whether it had changed any of the individual data points it was using to calculate the group score.
Tuesday's update came after privacy advocates voiced concern. In late November, a security researcher, Wolfie Christl, said the feature "normalizes extensive workplace surveillance in a way not seen before."
He listed the ways the feature was "problematic," saying: "Not least, Microsoft gets the power to define highly arbitrary metrics that will potentially affect the daily lives of millions of employees and even shape how organizations function."
But Tony Redmond, author of the book "Office 365 for IT Pros," said the individual tracking feature was similar to others that Microsoft has offered for years. The data "has been available to admins or years," he wrote on Twitter.
"It's entirely possible for managers to see information about different aspects of user activity, but not at the level anticipated in news reports. Knowing the number of meetings someone attended with video enabled is all very well but is meaningless unless placed in context," he wrote in a blog post.