In recent years, privacy concerns have come to the forefront of many people’s minds. One of the areas that have sparked concern is the data collection practices of popular office suites, specifically Microsoft’s Office Suite. In this blog, we will take a closer look at the privacy concerns surrounding Microsoft’s Office Suite and explore an alternative option for those looking for increased privacy.
Microsoft’s Office Suite is one of the most used suites of programs worldwide. As of 2022, Microsoft’s Office 365 had the largest market share of major office suites, controlling over 48% of the market. However, it is not only their market dominance that is cause for concern, but also their data collection practices.
Microsoft’s Data Collection Practices
When using Microsoft 365, whether it’s the online or offline version, a lot of data is sent to Microsoft. For example, when you download remote content like stock data, you’re telling Microsoft which stocks, funds, or indexes you want information on. They’re also not transparent about whom this information is shared with and by allowing Microsoft to analyze your content, they get access to a lot of personal data. This raises privacy concerns, especially when considering that Microsoft maintains most of its services outside the European Union and is subject to a lot of legislation from the American government to give over information to law enforcement.
Microsoft categorizes the data it collects into three broad categories:
- required diagnostic data
- optional diagnostic data
- connected experiences.
Connected experiences get a lot of data about the user’s activities, optional diagnostic data provides more fine-grained telemetry, and required diagnostic data cannot be opted out of and includes things like the type and version of your device and data generated after the app crashes. It’s worth noting that some of this data falls under the definition of personal data under European GDPR rules, although Microsoft claims that this is pseudonymized.
Microsoft 365 banned in German schools over privacy concerns
Recently, Microsoft came under fire by the federal German data protection authority and 16 state regulators, who formed a working group called DSK. They were not impressed with the lack of transparency and Microsoft’s data collecting practices, what personal information was collected, and the potential for third parties to access it. Microsoft Office 365 Declared illegal for German Schools, Again!
Microsoft under fire for its Office 365 privacy concerns in Germany, again! It's FOSS NewsSourav Rudra
They determined that the use of personal data of the users, employees, or students for the provider’s own purposes, precludes the use of the processor in the public sector, especially at schools. This essentially means that due to the lack of transparency, it is for regulators to assess from the outside exactly what information Microsoft is collecting and how it is using this data, making it unlawful to use under GDPR. As a result, Microsoft 365 has since been banned in German schools.
Another concern is the amount of data that Microsoft collects through telemetry and diagnostic data. Telemetry is the process of collecting data on the performance and usage of a machine or system. According to IT expert Klaus Muller, sensitive or personal information will be transferred to Microsoft, which maintains most of its services outside the European Union.
This is a significant privacy concern as it makes the personal data of EU citizens available to the U.S. Government, and is subject to a lot of legislation from the American government to give over information to law enforcement. Additionally, Microsoft does not allow for complete opt-out of data collection, and some of the data collected fall under the definition of personal data under European GDPR rules.
Alternative Office Suite: LibreOffice
One alternative to Microsoft Office is LibreOffice, a free and open-source office suite that includes a word processor, spreadsheet program, slide tool, and other software for creating and editing all kinds of documents and presentations. It’s similar to Microsoft Office in terms of layout, and compatibility with file formats and features, and it’s developed and maintained by the Document Foundation, a non-profit organization based in Germany.
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Free office suite – the evolution of OpenOffice. Compatible with Microsoft .doc, .docx, .xls, .xlsx, .ppt, .pptx. Updated regularly, community powered.
When using LibreOffice, there’s little to no learning curve, as the layout is similar to Microsoft and Google offerings. It can output files in almost any format, from those supported by Microsoft to the open document format. The best part about using LibreOffice is the increased privacy as it doesn’t have a telemetry module as Microsoft does.
What users do with the software is completely private and stays on their own machines. The only data sharing is in the form of crash reports, and these are always optional and anonymous. No identification information is sent, and no document content is sent.
Additionally, LibreOffice does not require any subscription fee, and it can be used on Windows, Mac, or Linux machines. Users can choose either the latest version, which is great for most personal use cases, or opt for a slightly older version that has been tested for longer and is considered more stable for business deployment.
Comparison to Other Alternatives
While LibreOffice is a great alternative for those looking for a feature-rich office suite without the Microsoft baggage, it may not be the best option for those who need real-time online collaboration. In this case, there are other alternatives such as NextCloud, which offers similar functionality and collaboration features and is also open source. The most popular self-hosted collaboration solution for tens of millions of users at thousands of organizations across the globe
The push for data-driven decision-making in many software companies has led to an increase in data collection from users. With Microsoft Office 365 controlling a large market share, it’s important to be aware of the privacy implications of the software we use in our daily lives. LibreOffice is a great alternative for those looking for a feature-rich office suite without the Microsoft baggage, and it offers increased privacy as it doesn’t collect any data without the user’s permission. While it may not be the best option for real-time online collaboration, there are other privacy-focused alternatives available. It’s important to research and consider privacy-focused alternatives for the software we use in our daily lives and take control of our data.