FAQ about tele­me­try and dia­gno­stic data in Micro­soft 365

When it comes to data pro­tec­tion with Micro­soft 365, in addi­ti­on to data trans­fers to the USA , the pro­ces­sing of tele­me­try and dia­gno­stic data is often cri­ti­cis­ed. Occa­sio­nal­ly, it is even clai­med that data pro­tec­tion law pro­hi­bits Micro­soft from using data for its own busi­ness pur­po­ses. The­se FAQs are inten­ded to dis­pel such myths and sup­port respon­si­ble par­ties who use Micro­soft 365 or are plan­ning to intro­du­ce it in a privacy-compliant man­ner.

  1. What is tele­me­try and dia­gno­stic data?
    Tele­me­try data are any data coll­ec­ted by tele­me­try that, despi­te pseud­ony­mi­sa­ti­on, may con­tain infor­ma­ti­on that iden­ti­fies an indi­vi­du­al user. The­r­e­fo­re, tele­me­try data are at least par­ti­al­ly per­so­nal data. Part of tele­me­try data is dia­gno­stic data, which con­ta­ins infor­ma­ti­on about the devices used and the per­for­mance of the appli­ca­ti­ons used. A distinc­tion must be made bet­ween optio­nal and essen­ti­al dia­gno­stic data. While the pro­ces­sing of optio­nal dia­gno­stic data can be dis­ab­led by the cus­to­mer, this is not pos­si­ble for the dia­gno­stic data neces­sa­ry for essen­ti­al ser­vices. Neces­sa­ry dia­gno­stic data in par­ti­cu­lar are the­r­e­fo­re the focus of cri­ti­cism under data pro­tec­tion law.
  2. For what pur­po­ses does Micro­soft pro­cess the­se data?
    In accordance with the Data Pro­tec­tion Adden­dum (DPA) , Micro­soft pro­ces­ses data for its own busi­ness acti­vi­ties . This includes, in par­ti­cu­lar, bil­ling and account manage­ment, com­pen­sa­ti­on, inter­nal report­ing and busi­ness mode­ling, com­ba­ting fraud, cyber­crime or cyber­at­tacks, impro­ving core ser­vice func­tion­a­li­ty, and finan­cial report­ing and com­pli­ance with legal obli­ga­ti­ons. In a state­ment dated 11 August 2022 , Micro­soft expli­cit­ly cla­ri­fies: “Dia­gno­stic data are neces­sa­ry to keep pro­ducts and ser­vices run­ning safe­ly and stably.”
  3. Does Microsoft’s data pro­ces­sing vio­la­te data pro­ces­sing agree­ments?
    No. The data pro­ces­sing when using Micro­soft 365 and the data pro­ces­sing for Microsoft’s own busi­ness acti­vi­ties are sepa­ra­te pro­ces­sing ope­ra­ti­ons that must be con­side­red indi­vi­du­al­ly accor­ding to the legal rulings of the ECJ. With the DPA, the par­ties cla­ri­fy that Micro­soft acts as a con­trol­ler with respect to pro­ces­sing for its own busi­ness acti­vi­ties and that this pro­ces­sing ope­ra­ti­on is not part of job data pro­ces­sing. The DPA is not a mere data pro­ces­sing agree­ment, but also con­ta­ins fur­ther infor­ma­ti­on and decla­ra­ti­ons on data pro­tec­tion. In our view, Micro­soft is thus also taking into account the cri­ti­cism of the Ger­man Data Pro­tec­tion Con­fe­rence (Daten­schutz­kon­fe­renz, DSK) regar­ding unclear respon­si­bi­li­ties under data pro­tec­tion law and pre­ven­ting pos­si­ble misunderstandings.
  4. Is Micro­soft sole­ly respon­si­ble or is the­re joint respon­si­bi­li­ty?
    Pre­re­qui­si­te for joint respon­si­bi­li­ty is the joint deter­mi­na­ti­on of the pur­po­ses and means of a pro­ces­sing ope­ra­ti­on, which is affirm­ed in part on the basis of the DPA agree­ment. Publicly, this view has so far only been adopted in the June 2019 Data Pro­tec­tion Impact Assess­ment (DSFA) on Office 365 Pro­Plus by the Dutch Minis­try of Jus­ti­ce regar­ding lega­cy Micro­soft con­tracts. Howe­ver, in the 2022 DSFA on Micro­soft Teams, One­Dri­ve, Share­Point, and Azu­re AD , the Dutch Minis­try of Jus­ti­ce takes this view only in a signi­fi­cant­ly wea­k­en­ed form. The DSK, on the other hand, affirms Microsoft’s sole respon­si­bi­li­ty in its 2020 posi­ti­on paper . Microsoft’s sole respon­si­bi­li­ty is also sup­port­ed by a gui­de­line issued by the data pro­tec­tion aut­ho­ri­ty of North Rhine-Westphalia on online exami­na­ti­ons at uni­ver­si­ties . In it, the aut­ho­ri­ty argues that the pro­ces­sing of trans­port and meta­da­ta in so-called “mixed ser­vices” (e.g., video con­fe­ren­cing ser­vices with a docu­ment manage­ment sys­tem) is not job data pro­ces­sing, but is the sole respon­si­bi­li­ty of the ser­vice pro­vi­der and sub­ject to tele­com­mu­ni­ca­ti­ons sec­re­cy. In a sam­ple let­ter from the Baden-Württemberg data pro­tec­tion aut­ho­ri­ty on Micro­soft Office 365, the aut­ho­ri­ty expli­cit­ly lea­ves the ques­ti­on of respon­si­bi­li­ties open. A uni­form line of the Ger­man and Euro­pean data pro­tec­tion super­vi­so­ry aut­ho­ri­ties is curr­ent­ly not perceptible.
  5. Is the­re any data dis­clo­sure to Micro­soft?
    This is also con­tro­ver­si­al. In some cases, howe­ver, it is argued that dis­clo­sure should alre­a­dy exist becau­se cus­to­mers do not pre­vent Micro­soft from pro­ces­sing data, thus pas­si­ve­ly ope­ning an oppor­tu­ni­ty for Micro­soft to coll­ect the data. This line of argu­ment seems to be fol­lo­wed, albeit wit­hout fur­ther jus­ti­fi­ca­ti­on, by the model let­ter of the data pro­tec­tion super­vi­so­ry aut­ho­ri­ty of Baden-Württemberg and the posi­ti­on paper of the DSK . The pre­fer­red view, howe­ver, is that dis­clo­sure requi­res posi­ti­ve action by the con­trol­ler, so the mere oppor­tu­ni­ty for data coll­ec­tion by Micro­soft does not estab­lish dis­clo­sure by cus­to­mers. The con­cept of data pro­ces­sing by omis­si­on is ali­en to the GDPR and must be rejec­ted as con­tra­ry to the system.
  6. Assum­ing dis­clo­sure, what is the legal basis?
    While com­pa­nies and other non-public enti­ties could base dis­clo­sure on a legi­ti­ma­te inte­rest, public enti­ties are bar­red from doing so. The lat­ter can at most refer to the per­for­mance of a neces­sa­ry task that is in the public inte­rest. Regu­la­tors tend to dis­miss this with a blan­ket refe­rence to all Micro­soft busi­ness acti­vi­ties iden­ti­fied in the DPA. More cor­rect­ly, howe­ver, dif­fe­ren­tia­ted advice must be given with regard to spe­ci­fic busi­ness activities.

Prac­ti­cal recommendation

Micro­soft 365 is tech­ni­cal­ly extre­me­ly com­plex and offers a wide ran­ge of opti­ons for pro­ces­sing per­so­nal data. A blan­ket state­ment on data pro­tec­tion com­pli­ance is the­r­e­fo­re not pos­si­ble. Ins­tead, depen­ding on the spe­ci­fic use, it must be exami­ned for which pur­po­ses per­so­nal data are pro­ces­sed with Micro­soft 365 and what legal bases can be used for the pro­ces­sing in each case. Based on the spe­ci­fic use, pos­si­ble risks to data pri­va­cy and appro­pria­te reme­di­al mea­su­res should also be iden­ti­fied and imple­men­ted. We have had very good expe­ri­ence with this approach in num­e­rous imple­men­ta­ti­on projects.


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