Using Special Characters in Retention Labels and Sensitivity Labels

Brightening Label Names

Retention labels are a security and compliance feature. And like most things associated with security and compliance, the names given to labels are usually pretty boring. Names like Keep for Audit or Confidential or even Top Secret hardly stir the blood. The same is true for sensitivity labels, used to assign permissions to files and messages and to protect their content with encryption. For the remainder of this article, I’ll use label to refer to both retention and sensitivity labels.

To be fair, those charged with managing compliance for an Office 365 tenant might not want to excite users. But then again, they might want to add a touch of emphasis to a label, and you can do that with some special characters.

Getting Graphic

All characters you see have a code that tells the computer what to display on screen. Pressing keyboard keys inserts the codes for the most common characters into documents, programs, or anything else you might want to input into on a computer. But beyond the range of “normal” characters, we find special characters. To make the special characters appear on-screen, you must enter key combinations such as pressing the ALT key and then 26 on a numeric keypad to generate the right-arrow character → or ALT and 9781 to generate a snowman character ☃ (here’s a good article to read on the topic).

Apart from the special characters, there’s the code to generate Unicode symbols, such as ALT+128274 needed for a lock 🔒 as well as a set of emojis (not that I ever recommend the use of an emoji in an Office 365 label).

Adding a Graphic to a Label Name

To add a special character to an Office 365 label, first create it in a Word document by inputting the necessary key combination. Then go to the Office 365 Security and Compliance Center and create a new label. Input the text part of the name and then cut and paste the symbol from the Word document to end up with something like Figure 1.

LockedDown retention labels
Figure 1: Including the lock symbol in an Office 365 label name

Complete the rest of the settings for the new label and save the label. Finally, add the label to a label policy and publish it to the Office 365 workloads.

Using the Graphic Label

After a short period, the label is available to SharePoint Online and OneDrive for Business (it takes longer to publish to Exchange because the Managed Folder Assistant must process mailboxes to make new labels available). As you can see in Figure 2, the label appears along with all the other published labels and can be applied to a document in the same way as any other label.

Figure 2: The Locked Down label appears, complete with symbol

Exchange Retention Tags

Graphic symbols also work in Exchange retention tags. In Figure 3, we see two labels with graphics appear in OWA. The first (Locked Down) is created as an Office 365 label and published to Exchange, where it shows up as a personal tag. The second (Keep 10,000 days) is an Exchange personal retention tag.

OWA Graphic Symbols
Figure 3: Graphic symbols used in Exchange retention tags


The same technique works with other types of labels such as Azure Information Protection labels. As it should. The only issue I have run into is that the PowerShell console doesn’t like graphic symbols and treats them as non-printing characters. But you can cut and paste values containing graphic characters and use them with PowerShell. For example, to get details of the retention tag shown in Figure 3:

Get-RetentionPolicyTag -Identity "Keep 10,000 days 🔒"

Name Type Description
---- ---- -----------
Keep 10,000 days 🔒 Personal Managed Content Settings

What Will Microsoft Support Do?

I can’t see that any great harm is caused by using graphic symbols in labels. After all, the symbols are just character codes that computers can process and Office 365 is designed to be multilingual and cope with different character sets (like the way Teams deals with Hebrew and Arabic).

I haven’t tested the willingness of Microsoft Support to accept that symbols can be valid components of label names. It’s possible that some deep and dark flaw is lurking out there. And remember, once you give a name to an Office 365 label, you can’t change it because the label might have been applied to content. That small but very important point is likely the one that will stop people being more colorful with their labels.

To learn more about Office 365 labels, read Chapter 19 of the Office 365 for IT Pros eBook. Chapter 19 also explains how the Exchange Online Managed Folder Assistant works.

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