Microsoft hit with Austrian privacy complaints over its education programme

By Thomson Reuters Jun 4, 2024 | 12:02 AM

By Foo Yun Chee

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Microsoft on Tuesday found itself targeted in two complaints filed by privacy advocacy group NOYB to the Austrian privacy watchdog related to its online education software, the latest grievances levelled against the U.S. tech giant.

Online educational programmes gained in popularity during the COVID-19 pandemic as schools switched to remote teaching and students became online learners.

NOYB’s (None of your business) gripes centre on Microsoft’s 365 Education suite of software programmes for students that include Word, Excel, Microsoft Teams, PowerPoint and Outlook.

In its first complaint, the advocacy group alleged Microsoft shifts its responsibility as a data controller required to process users’ personal data under EU privacy rules known as the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) to schools, which do not hold the necessary data.

“Under the current system that Microsoft is imposing on schools, your school would have to audit Microsoft or give them instructions on how to process pupils’ data. Everyone knows that such contractual arrangements are out of touch with reality,” NOYB lawyer Maartje de Graaf said in a statement.

“This is nothing more but an attempt to shift the responsibility for children’s data as far away from Microsoft as possible,” she said.

The second complaint focuses on cookies installed in Microsoft’s 365 Education. Advertisers use cookies to track consumers.

“Our analysis of the data flows is very worrying. Microsoft 365 Education appears to track users regardless of their age. This practice is likely to affect hundreds of thousands of pupils and students in the EU and EEA (European Economic Area),” said NOYB lawyer Felix Mikolasch.

NOYB urged the Austrian Data Protection Authority to investigate its complaints and fine Microsoft.

(Reporting by Foo Yun Chee; Editing by Mark Potter)