In March 2017, Microsoft launched its online chat and collaboration tool Microsoft Teams. By the end of 2018, ~3 million users utilized Teams on a daily basis, growing to ~44 million users by February 2020. Microsoft Teams wasn’t alone on its upward trajectory; competing applications such as Facebook Workplaces and Slack have seen similar growth. These platforms appeal to corporations who want to improve collaboration and efficiencies, and decrease email communications, all within fully audited systems.
By February 2020, the world was gripped by the COVID-19 pandemic. Suddenly every industry was thrown into a state of turmoil, employees in all departments were placed into a global lockdown, and corporations needed to support their employees working from home. Microsoft Teams saw daily users grow to 75 million – adding 31 million users in a single month.
This 41% increase stemmed not only from the need for organizations to support their employees, but from the ease and speed of implementing the solution. Microsoft reports that one in five corporations utilize Office 365 to manage their corporate email and online storage. As such, these organizations, representing ~260 million users, already had access to Microsoft Teams, resulting in rapid adoption as the pandemic hit. This surge prompted Slack to file an anti-trust complaint with the European Commission against Microsoft for “abusing its market dominance.”
Whether or not Microsoft are in breach of competition law has yet to be determined. It is clear, however, that Microsoft Teams is embedded in many global organizations, with a large user base that will likely continue to grow.
As an eDiscovery provider, CDS is already experiencing the need to extract, manage and review Microsoft Teams data, for both legal and compliance cases. Having collection, conversion and review workflows in place to deal with this data is key.
In May 2020, I spoke on a CDS webinar on handling chat and mobile data, outlining the difficulties in reviewing these data types. I emphasized the importance of using review software that provides a single platform for reviewing all data types in a user-friendly format that preserves context and ensures file retention polices are maintained. When choosing a chat and mobile solution, here are five important elements to explore:
- Export format: Most platforms export data into structured data formats such as XML or JSON. These formats are not natively reviewable and need to be converted into a suitable format. Unlike most chat platforms, Microsoft Teams only allows export to email messages. Although these are natively reviewable, they have severe limitations whereby each message is exported as a single file, with attachments showing as protected links to the file. As a result, third-party tools are required to collect or convert the data.
- Conversion process: Converters are typically proprietary to an eDiscovery vendor and functionality will differ between each tool. Prior to using a solution, evaluate the capabilities of the tool. Consider features such as message threading, attachment download/embedding, reporting, filtering and custom unitization options, and ensure they fit your review needs.
- Modern attachments: When dealing with email data, an attachment is static at the point of time it was added. Unlike email, collaboration platforms provide the ability for users to edit attachments directly within the chat application, providing a dynamic document which can change over time. Capturing the document as it was originally sent is important to ensure data is reviewed in context. Exports from Microsoft Teams contain only secure links to the most recent version of the attachment. If incorrectly handled, this may result in missing or incorrect attachments. Ensure that the export and conversion process provide the required information from the offset, so that there are no delays or additional costs incurred.
- Inline replies: Unlike older message applications which provide a single back and forth chain, most modern chat platforms will allow a user to reply directly to a historic message. Many review tools will show the messages chronologically, displaying the reply out of the intended order. Ensure that the solution you are using displays the correct order of messaging data in order to maintain context.
- Emojis and Reactions: They say that a picture is worth a thousand words, and a user adding an emoji can completely change the context of a message. Similarly, a reaction is simply an emoji applied in response to a sent message, like a thumbs up. Can a simple thumbs up be seen as approval to proceed with something? If that thumbs up was missing, would critical evidence be missed? Ensuring your chosen review platform provides emoji/reaction support is essential to correctly understanding the meaning of a conversation.
These are only a few aspects to consider when choosing a review solution for your case. Tools such as CDS Convert, alongside the Relativity Short Message Format can be used to ensure a defensible, consistent and easy-to-review dataset in response to any legal cases requiring chat and mobile data. In regulated industries, tools such as Relativity Trace can be utilized to actively monitor chat and collaboration platforms for compliance purposes, flagging potentially harmful data as it occurs.