Using the Teams Private Preview Camera Function in Meetings

False Protests About a Teams Feature

In what can only be described as a vacuous clickbait attempt to generate some page views, on April 7 a web site (which I won’t point to) postulated that the Teams private preview camera feature might compromise user privacy. Calling the feature “faulty,” the post breathlessly reported that using the private preview “might concern users’ privacy by exposing their video when they are not prepared.” This is a pile of brown smelly bovine emissions.

Using the Private Preview

At first, I thought the post was a (very late) April Fool’s Day joke. Then I realized that the author was serious (as much as you can be when writing clickbait text). The problem focused on the feature where if you’re using the desktop client and the video feed is off, moving the mouse over the camera icon causes Teams to display a private preview of your video feed (Figure 1).

Using the Private Preview feature in a Teams meeting
Figure 1: Using the Private Preview feature in a Teams meeting

The feature addresses a problem commonly felt by users, which is how to know what others will see if they enable their video feed in a meeting (here’s a User Voice post on the topic). The preview allows the user to enable a background effect like blurring or a background image (if allowed by policy) to see what their video feed will look like if enabled for the meeting. No one else in the meeting sees the video preview. It is private and only exposed if the user decides to enable the camera.

Problems Cited

The report says that users might expose their camera view if they are sharing their desktop and move the mouse to reveal the preview. Another flavor of the reported problem is where you give control to another person and they move the mouse over the camera. All of this is true, but Teams is working as expected. I guess you might be surprised and upset if you were in a state of undress or otherwise unprepared for a preview to appear, but how likely is this to happen in practice. The mitigating factor is that the preview is a small thumbnail rather than a full attendee card view.

In addition, most people share an app window instead of a complete screen. Sharing the full desktop exposes other potential privacy issues as you might not realize what other people will pick up on from what’s shown. It’s always better to limit what you share to something like a presentation or document. And when sharing a window, the private preview is not visible because it’s not the shared app.

Nice to Have Previews

The report suggests that Teams should deactivate the private preview feature when a user shares their screen. It’s a reasonable suggestion. Now if only Microsoft hadn’t canned User Voice to allow them to make the suggestion…

3 Replies to “Using the Teams Private Preview Camera Function in Meetings”

  1. “how likely is this to happen in practice”

    Very f*****g likely, and it just happened to me while I was screen sharing on my MacBook! How can you say the problem is “click bait” then go on to say “everything reported is true BUT come ooonn, how likely is THAT to happen? *eye roll*”

    I hovered over the camera preview for 1/4th a second, moved away to the actual function I wanted to use, but the camera preview loaded anyway and exposed me short) shirtless, in my bed, with VERY bad hair. I caught the exposed preview in 1 second and covered the camera with my hand but now at least 6 colleagues and people I manage know what my nipples look like. Thankfully all of them were professional and didn’t say a word and I can only pray none of them were paying attention, but it’s an extremely embarrassing situation to happen.

    The only “click bait” article I’ve seen about the issue is THIS article giving me a glimmer of hope I wasn’t seen in such a state. What you should do is update YOUR article so it’s not click bait, and suggest to have your camera obscured at all times either by a built in shutter or no-residue tape.

    This privacy issue is very real and for Microsoft to solve it they should force-hide the preview and/or the entire Teams app by default, and give the user an option to explicity allow it to be shared. I can’t think of a single reason to allow for the preview or even the Teams application to be visible during Desktop capture.

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