Office 365 for Windows has new look privacy settings, hidden deep in the menus where, presumably, Microsoft hopes customers won’t find them.
These changes are in conjunction with the renamed Office cloud features now called ‘Connected Experiences’.
They apply to Office 365 for Windows build 1904 and later. A series of opening screens may appear and we’ve detailed them Office 365 Privacy Reminder aka Microsoft covering it’s legal behind
If you missed those screens or want to revise your choices, the same options are many levels down in the Office menus.
Connected Services and your privacy
All these cloud connections send information to Microsoft. The company groups these services into ‘download’ and ‘analyze’ customer data but the reality is that all the ‘Connected Experiences’ send some of your personal or business data to Microsoft. Any of that data can be used by Microsoft or shared with other agencies without notice or explicit consent.
They might seem like minor details, but any privacy expert will tell you that those little bits of info can be combined into a frighteningly complete profile of a person or business.
Only two choices
Microsoft only gives customers two choices when it comes to what’s sent to the company.
The ‘Connected Experiences‘ can only be turned on/off according to the two broad and somewhat misleading groupings. Go to File | Options | Trust Center | Privacy Options | Privacy Settings.
Scroll down to see the cloud services / connected experiences choices.
Other Office 365 cloud services more obviously need document content to work like Dictation
Excel’s Insights gets your spreadsheet data to provide an analysis.
PowerPoint’s Designer takes text and images from a slide to suggest alternative designs.
Alt Text service sends a copy of every photo you add to a document, spreadsheet or presentation.
Here’s a full list of the ‘analyse content’ connected experiences.
Download online content
These are services like downloading online pictures, video or 3D models, online research, expanded dictionary, thesaurus etc.
Despite the wording, these ‘download’ services are not a one-way street. Some private information is sent to Microsoft before every request, naturally. For example, words from your document go to Microsoft for the thesaurus, Smart Lookup or Researcher.
The two speech features, ‘Read Aloud’ and ‘Dictate’ send every word to Microsoft.
Any search for online media can be tracked.
Most troubling is Excel’s Stock Data type. It’s a great feature but every time you use it, you’re sending a list of the stocks, funds and indexes you’re following.
Here’s a full list of the ‘download content’ connected experiences.
All connected experiences
Below those choices is an option to enable/disable all connected experiences.
Some internet connections will still work even with ‘Enable connected experiences’ OFF.
Most important for customers, Outlook email connections.
Most important for Microsoft, checking that your software licence is legal and up to date.