Microsoft Office brings you new privacy controls

Earlier this week, Julie Brill, Corporate Vice President and Deputy General Counsel at Microsoft, published a blog that outlined Microsoft’s ongoing commitment to privacy and provided details on the direction we are taking as a company. In her blog, Julie introduced principles that guide our approach to increasing transparency and customer control over data collected by Microsoft’s major products.

We are excited to announce that earlier this week we released an update to Office that reflects these principles.

Office is a connected experience

The way we use technology to be productive at work and at home is changing. We work more on the go, we use more than one device to complete our tasks, and we often collaborate as part of a team—even when that team is our family and friends. At Microsoft, we’re committed to providing you with the best-in-class applications and experiences to meet these modern needs, while respecting your privacy and keeping you in control of your data.

We continue to introduce new and exciting capabilities to Office to help you create, communicate, and collaborate more effectively. Sometimes it’s as simple as helping you find a document you wrote a week ago, or helping you find the perfect image for a school report. Or maybe your team needs to collaborate and communicate on a project in real-time across different devices. Office can help you create professional-looking presentations by suggesting design layouts for your PowerPoint slides, and it can also help you find key insights in complex data sets.

To deliver these experiences, Office uses the power of the Microsoft Cloud. Like any other connected service or website, required service data must be shared between your computer and Microsoft to enable these features.

For example: Perhaps you would like PowerPoint to provide live subtitles as you present and even translate your words into a different language. To transcribe and translate your spoken words, PowerPoint sends a recording of your voice to our Speech and Translation service, where it’s automatically machine transcribed and translated. The generated text is returned to your computer, so that PowerPoint can display it on the screen in (almost) real-time. Your voice and words are used only to do the transcription and translation you’ve asked us to do.

If you want to learn more about which connected experiences are available to you in Office, please read Connected experiences in Office.

You’re in control of cloud connected experiences

We understand the importance of keeping you and your organization in control of connected experiences when working in Office apps. With this update, you now have settings that allow you to disable or re-enable the following types of connected experiences, including:

  • Experiences that analyze your content. Experiences that use your Office content to provide you with design recommendations, editing suggestions, data insights, and similar features. For example, PowerPoint Designer or Editor in Word.
  • Experiences that download online content. Experiences that allow you to search and download online content, including templates, images, 3D models, videos, and reference materials to enhance your documents. For example, Office templates or PowerPoint QuickStarter.
  • Other connected experiences. Experiences such as document collaboration can be also turned off by disconnecting the Office desktop apps from the Microsoft Cloud.

Some services are essential to how Office apps function and cannot be turned off. For example: syncing your mailbox in Outlook, authenticating and verifying your Office license, and determining if Office is up to date.

Although these improvements have come to Office on Windows first, in the coming months, similar controls and experiences will be introduced in Office on other platforms.

If Office is connected to your work or school account, your IT administrator is empowered to make choices about which connected experiences are available to you in your organization. To learn more about improvement to the IT controls and the options available, please see Overview of privacy controls for Office 365 ProPlus.

Keeping Office secure, up to date, and performing as expected

Our customers choose Office because of its strong track record of capability, quality, security, reliability, and compatibility. Just as with our cloud-backed experiences, we use data to keep the Office apps secure, up to date, performing as expected, and to make product improvements.

For this purpose, we collect diagnostic data to detect, diagnose, and rapidly address issues before they become large-scale problems or cause security risks. If one of our apps runs too slowly, or has some other error, we want to know about it as quickly as possible, so we can work on fixing it. This diagnostic data helps us keep your Office working the way it should.

Consistent with the data collection framework outlined in Julie’s blog, there are two levels of diagnostic data for Office desktop applications:

  • Required data—The minimum data necessary to help keep Office secure, up to date, and performing as expected on the device it’s installed on. For example, required data is collected when we update Office on your device. To ensure the update packages are downloaded and installed correctly, we collect information about the success (or failure) of this operation. Or when you add a new email account to Outlook, we collect required diagnostic data about the success of adding this new account. Increased rates of failure could indicate a change made by your email provider or regression in support of this provider in our software.
  • Optional data—This is data that is collected in addition to required data and only with your consent. If collected, optional data helps us detect, diagnose, and fix issues even faster; and it helps us make improvements to meet your productivity needs now and in the future. Optional data, for example, is collected on whether files are saved locally or in the cloud; this helps us to better understand our customers’ storage preferences. Or tracking the number of times a feature is used to better understand the ways our customers interact with new Office features. We generally use optional diagnostic data to learn about the preferences across a large set of customers. We continually work to improve Office to make it work better for you and the rest of our customers. We appreciate you choosing to provide optional diagnostic data to make this possible.

For more information about diagnostic data in Office, and how to control which category you provide, see Diagnostic data in Office. If you’re using a work or school account, your IT administrator will have additional options to disable collection of diagnostic data and may have made some choices about options available to you.

Regardless of whether you stay with required data or opt in to optional data, the diagnostic data we receive doesn’t include your name or email address, the content of your files, or information about apps unrelated to Office. We take great precautions to ensure your privacy, including how we handle your diagnostic data. Our system creates a unique alphanumeric ID that it associates with the diagnostic data before it leaves your computer. Although unique, this ID by itself cannot be mapped back to any individual person. We use this ID to help us differentiate between an issue happening on 100 different devices or 100 instances of the same issue happening on a single device.

We want to be open and transparent about the data we collect to detect, diagnose, and fix issues. We created a free Diagnostic Data Viewer, where you can see the diagnostic data sent to Microsoft. For details, read Using the Diagnostic Data Viewer with Office.

Office is built on trust

Julie’s blog announced a new framework and emphasized Microsoft’s commitment to trust and privacy. This update to Office embodies these principles.

Making our privacy experience and controls clear and helpful is critical to building and keeping your trust in our products and services. Many experiences you’re seeing in this update to Office are the result of many hours of conversations and research with customers like you. We’ll continue to learn and improve our product behaviors and user experience as we receive more input. Your feedback will be important in helping us deliver future privacy-related updates.

It’s our mission to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more. We can only accomplish that by earning your confidence that we respect you, your data, and your privacy.