Microsoft will now snitch on you at work like never before

You think there are limits to what your employer can see you do online? Some new Microsoft updates may make you think a little more about that.
Written by Chris Matyszczyk, Contributing Writer

They're watching you ever more closely.

By HJBC -- Shutterstock

I feel sure there are many American workers who have put the whistle in their mouths, like former Facebook employee Frances Haugen, but been too afraid to blow it.

I feel equally sure that, after I tell you what's coming, you'll be more reluctant even to put the whistle in your mouth.

It may be that you think your employer is doing evil, unspeakable or merely unpleasant or illegal things. But it may equally be that you're less a whistleblower and more tending toward the unpleasant, untrustworthy or even illegal yourself.

Also: There's been a big rise in monitoring workers at home. We should all be worried

With blessed coincidence, Microsoft is preparing a couple of little updates that may curb employee rulebreaking enthusiasm.

Yes, this news again comes courtesy of Microsoft's roadmap service, where Redmond prepares you for the joys to come.

This time, there are a couple of joys.

The first is headlined: "Microsoft 365 compliance center: Insider risk management -- Increased visibility on browsers."

It all sounded wonderful until you those last four words, didn't it? For this is the roadmap for administrators. And when you give a kindly administrator "increased visibility on browsers," you can feel sure this means an elevated level of surveillance of what employees are typing into those browsers.

In this case, Microsoft is targeting "risky activity." Which, presumably, has some sort of definition. It offers a link to its compliance center, where the very first sentence has whistleblower built in: "Web browsers are often used by users to access both sensitive and non-sensitive files within an organization."

And what is the compliance center monitoring? Why, "files copied to personal cloud storage, files printed to local or network devices, files transferred or copied to a network share, files copied to USB devices."

You always assumed this was the case? Perhaps. But now there will be mysteriously increased visibility.

"How might this visibility be increased?," I hear you shudder. Well, there's another little roadmap update that may, just may, offer a clue.

This one proclaims: "Microsoft 365 compliance center: Insider risk management -- New ML detectors."

Yes, your company will soon have extra-special robots to crawl along after you and observe your every "risky" action. It's not enough to have increased visibility on browsers. You must also have Machine Learning constantly alert for someone revealing your lunch schedule.

Microsoft offers a link to its Insider Risk Management page. This enjoys some delicious phrasing: "Customers acknowledge insights related to the individual user's behavior, character, or performance materially related to employment can be calculated by the administrator and made available to others in the organization."

Yes, even your character is being examined here.

In one sense, this is all understandable. The easier it gets for employees to behave in even marginally nefarious ways, the more there has to be security to prevent them from doing it.

The more that cyber weaknesses exist, the more someone might want to exploit them.

Ultimately, of course, it's another small representation of the complete lack of trust among humans -- and especially between management and employees. Technology, because of its immediacy and ubiquity, has exacerbated that.

The more companies descend spy software upon their employees -- especially employees working from home -- the less trust can exist between those who work and those who manage.

The more companies want to follow every single moment of their employees' working lives -- and even non-working lives -- the less it feels like we're all in this together.

There's a certain symbolism, of course, in Microsoft 365 following you around 365 days a year.

I'm not sure it's entirely uplifting symbolism.

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