walking past a wall of news print in Istanbul
PHOTO: Ozan Safak

San Francisco-based Slack has updated its privacy policy. Unlike many of the privacy policy updates announced since the Facebook–Cambridge Analytica data harvesting scandal, this update enables employers to view and download everything users share in Slack, even conversations shared in private channels.

The update appears to buck the current trend of organizations going out of their way to reassure workers about the privacy of their data. The updated policy, which goes into effect April 20, will see the existing compliance reports discontinued and the channel content downloading options expanded. The current compliance reports, which were introduced in 2014, enabled enterprises that bought the premium ‘Plus’ plan to download and read all communications transmitted via Slack.

The previous capability did not allow downloads in real time and on the occasions where the option was used, affected employees were automatically notified the download had happened. That, however, is changing. In a blog post about the update Slack explained: “If you're starting a new Slack workspace, Workspace Owners and Admins can use the import tool to pull existing messages, files and members from one of these sources: another Slack workspace, a CSV or text file, or a third-party app (HipChat, Flowdock, Campfire or Chatwork).”

This means four major changes:

  1. Slack workplace owners will be able to download everything in all public channels.
  2. Those that buy the Plus plans can request access to a self-service export tool to download data from all workspaces, private or public.
  3. Workspace owners on the free plans can use the tool on request and must provide a legal reason for the request.
  4. The notifications that a download has taken place are being discontinued.

In a statement sent to NBC News, Slack said it was updating the new policy in response to the GDPR regulation that comes into effect in May. The statement explained the changes are an attempt, “to achieve a balance across regulatory requirements, user expectations and customer needs.”

SharePoint Adds New Tools for Collaboration

When Microsoft introduced SharePoint Online and folded it into Office 365, it told users any SharePoint improvements would appear in the online version first and that on-premises would have to wait for major upgrades, if not new editions, before they could access and use the new improvements. A new edition of SharePoint Server is due later this year and in the absence of any specifics on what to expect in the 2019 version, it is interesting to look at the upgrades currently appearing for the online version.

Over the past week, several new additions have been announced that will make the collaboration elements of the platform easier to use. There are many updates on the way including new data types in Excel, intelligent search in SharePoint, and the expansion of the Microsoft Cloud with datacenters in new geographies. However, for collaboration and the digital workplace, two upgrades stand out: SharePoint hub sites and Yammer Web Parts.

Hub Sites: After months of waiting, Redmond, Wash.-based Microsoft said it has started rolling out SharePoint hub sites to Office 365 subscribers enrolled in Targeted Release. Hub sites are flexible building blocks that can be used to build corporate intranets by gathering content from across SharePoint team sites and SharePoint communication sites. It enables users to flexibly connect content from across Office 365 and build an intranet based on projects, divisions, departments. Office 365 admins have the ability to govern all of this activity.

Yammer Web Parts: Yammer surfaces again with the introduction of a web part that will allow users to add Yammer conversations and feeds to any SharePoint site or webpage. It gives users more control over the content that is displayed as well as offering the ability to curate specific threads and guide conversations. The addition will also make it possible to surface unread conversations specific to the reader. The web part works across desktop and mobile, creating the possibility of embedding virtual communities in any of an organization's web properties.

It is unclear whether either of these additions will be included in the on-premises SharePoint 2019, but with the emphasis in the next edition of SharePoint likely to focus on hybrid computing, it looks likely they will be included, along with other updates released over the past few months. As yet there hasn’t been Microsoft ‘leaks’ about what’s on the way, but with its Build developer conference coming up in early May, we'll likely find out more soon.

Google Introduces Access Checker File Sharing

Mountain View, Calif.-based Google announced updates to its productivity suite G Suite this week, which it claims will make it easier for Google Drive users to share files though Gmail, Calendar and other apps using new features in Access Checker. The new additions will also act as a safety net, by verifying any files shared through G Suite apps will only go to people who are authorized to see those files.

Access Checker works by automatically checking whether the people you have listed to send a file to have the permission to view that file. If they don’t, Access checker asks if you want to change the permissions before you share the file.  Google has also added intelligence to Access Checker. According to the explanatory blog post, Access Checker will anticipate who needs access to a file and intelligently default to sharing with those recipients only. It also supports more file types in Drive.

The upgrades to Access Checker are due to be rolled-out by the end of this month and will be available in all G Suite editions. This upgrade follows the release of Hangouts Chats in February that allows users message each other privately, work collaboratively and share calendars.

Apple Poaches Google's AI Chief

In other Google-related news, Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple announced this week it has hired Google’s chief of search and artificial intelligence, John Giannandrea. The hire is a major step forward for Apple, which many believe has fallen behind in the artificial intelligence (AI) race, especially with Siri, its digital assistant that is widely seen as being less effective than those offered by Amazon or Google. AI is key to the digital workplace in that it enables computers to manage increasingly complex data sets, mange voice commands and make the best use of images.

The news was first reported in the New York Times. According to an email sent to Apple employees on Tuesday which the newspaper accessed, Giannandrea will run Apple’s “machine learning and A.I. strategy,” and become one of 16 executives who report directly to Apple’s chief executive, Tim Cook.

“Our technology must be infused with the values we all hold dear,” Tim Cook said in the email. “John shares our commitment to privacy and our thoughtful approach as we make computers even smarter and more personal.”

Giannandrea, a 53-year-old native of Scotland, helped lead the push to integrate AI throughout Google’s products, including internet search, Gmail and its own digital assistant, Google Assistant.

What Will Coveo Do With $100M?

Finally this week, Louis Têtu, chairman and CEO of Quebec City-based Coveo, provider of intelligent and predictive search technologies, explained what the company will do with the $100 million investment from Evergreen Coast Capital. The private equity firm takes 27 percent stake of the company as a result of the investment.

According to Têtu, Coveo plans to use the investment to accelerate growth, including taking advantage of strategic acquisition opportunities that may arise. In a statement, Têtu explained the money would be used, first and foremost, to grow its platform: “With this financing, we intend to broaden our market footprint with even more aggressive investments in sales, marketing, channels, as well as launch new lines of business beyond the current Salesforce, Microsoft and Sitecore products. In addition, we’re opening a whole range of new opportunities by expanding our platform on Elasticsearch, enabling organizations to leverage Coveo as their wide relevance backbone.” 

The company intends to further expand its R & D team, which already has 200 developers and data scientists feeding into the global enterprise market.