Privacy: Microsoft wants to (sneakily) collect more data from users via Office

Office data collectionLaunch Word, Excel, PowerPoint or some other Microsoft Office app on your computer, and you'll be greeted by a dialog entitled "Your data, controlled by you". You'll then be invited to review your privacy settings to determine how much telemetry data Microsoft is able to collect through Office.

Earlier this month, Microsoft made reference to privacy and user feedback in its office suite, saying that "Office is built on trust". Now, the company is using a popup dialog to give users a chance to control the data they share; or, looked more cynically, to trick them into agreeing to share more data.

The dialog that appears upon firing up an Office application informs users: "When you entrust your data to Office, you remain the owner of that data. It's our policy to not use, or let others use, it for advertising purposes". It goes on to say: "We've updated Office privacy settings to let you know what data we collect and how we use it". The opening page of the dialog concludes condescendingly: "Let's take a look".

There is no way to skip this dialog without working your way through it, so the only option is to click Next.

The next page of the dialog is strangely entitled "Performing as expected". On-screen text talks about the data Microsoft "needs" to collect from users to keep Office running as it should. You are then invited to agree to send "additional diagnostic and usage data". Microsoft says it is something "we'd like" and you can then choose between two options: "Yes, send optional data", and "No, don't send optional data". Clearly as this is data Microsoft openly it admits to wanting, it would prefer everyone to select Yes. Yes is the first option, and users are certainly not encouraged to select No. Intentional or not, there is a strong implication that Yes really should be selected.

The next screen is a little strange.

Headed "Powering your experiences" you are told that:

Office includes experiences that connect to online services -- for example, downloadable templates from Office.com, and OneDrive file storage for sharing files with people you choose. When you use these experiences, Office collects diagnostic service data. In addition, some of these services analyze your content to deliver suggestions and recommendations.

It is here that we learn that Microsoft has changed the way privacy settings work in Office, and has moved where you control these settings: File > Account > Account Privacy > Manage Settings (not something you're likely to stumble across by accident). Online, Microsoft advises that this change "applies to Office version 1904 or newer".

You'll find another dialog here entitled "Your data, controlled by you" and a series of check boxes that control the data that you're happy to share with Microsoft. All of the data collection settings relating to the "experiences" Microsoft refers to are enabled by default.

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