Back to blog

Ignite 2016 New Feature Release Day 1: Data Anonymization

Sep 19, 2016 by Emma Robinson

In preparation for Ignite 2016 we at Cogmotive have been working hard to develop some exciting new features that we will be rolling out over the course of this week. To kick off our Ignite 2016 New Feature Release, we are delighted to announce a powerful new security setting for user or tenant level account permissions for your Office 365 reporting data: Data Anonymization.
Why anonymize your reporting data?
Cogmotive Reports enables you to access user-level Office 365 usage, permissions and settings information, which is taken from Azure AD (if the fields are populated). This is great when you need to drill down into a user account to troubleshoot a problem or identify a group of users based on a common attribute. However, some organisations have very strict privacy policies, and many jurisdictions have increasingly comprehensive data protection laws that place controls over when and how such information may be used or shared. You can find out more about employee data protection and ‘monitoring at work’ here.
This can result in organisations being unable to generate reports that include Personally Identifiable Information (PII – generally any information that can be used to identify a living person such as a name, email address, phone number) for concern over the risk of this information being made available to other users, or having to strictly limit which users can access information of this nature.  There are also times when disclosure of PII user detail is simply unnecessary for the task at hand, so it would be preferable to aggregate the data in an anonymous format to reduce risk.
Introducing Data Anonymization
To solve this problem and give our customers more freedom to get the most out of their Office 365 reporting data, Cogmotive Reports now offers data anonymization, which can be set at user or organisational level, allowing you to obfuscate any PII in your reports, such as names and email addresses. With this feature enabled, any personal data will be replaced with a random series of letters and numbers (as shown in the screenshot below). This way, organisations can avoid using PII when it’s not absolutely essential. They can also make better use of Office 365 as a rich source of business intelligence by granting more users access to this data, without exposing information that may be sensitive or highly regulated to people who don’t need to access it.
There are two options for how you can apply data anonymization:

  • Anonymize at organisational level (anonymization for every user, for every report): This means that no one is able to see PII in the reports that include it.
  • Anonymize at user level (a security setting for selected users for every report they can access): This means that Admins and certain user accounts can be set to see PII in the application, and other user accounts can be set to see all of the reporting data in anonymized form (by setting this as part of a specific user’s permissions).

The user level option in particular provides the opportunity to balance operational needs with maximising your organisation’s access to Office 365 data to gain valuable insights by assigning access to users who do not have (or need) permission to view sensitive user information, while still retaining the option to give access to this data for some staff (Systems Admins, IT Support) who do need to see user-level information to provide help-desk or technical support.
When configured, each of these options affects every report in the application that includes PII. It is not possible to set anonymization on a ‘per-report basis’, only a ‘per-user basis’, so it’s important to decide which option would suit your users best based on their reporting needs.
How to Anonymize User Data in Your Account
If you are the account administrator, you can enable the feature for everyone, by going to ‘Profile & Settings’ in ‘Settings’ (cog button in the top right-hand corner), or the left-hand navigation menu, then go to the tab called ‘Anonymize User Data’ and select the option you need. As the admin, you can change these preferences at any point.
Once you have done this, you can also set it on a per-user basis in the ‘User Management’ section (also in ‘Settings’ or the left-hand menu)
If required you can change the format of pre-configured reports that have been saved or scheduled. Just go into the ‘Saved Reports’ section, and you will see that you now have the option to anonymize these reports also.
You can do this for existing reports, and any new ones that are set up (as you can see below, the ‘Anonymize This Report’ option is now included when you are choosing your schedule).
Do you need to anonymize the personal data in your reports? Why not log into the Cogmotive Reports application and enable this new feature?
If you haven’t tried Cogmotive Reports yet, why not sign up for a free 14-day trial, and see what detailed, automated, powerful Office 365 reporting could show you.
Cogmotive is the leading global provider of enterprise level reporting and analytics applications for Office 365. Find out more now.