How to Manage Anonymized User Data in Microsoft 365 Usage Reports

From September 1, Pseudonymized by Default

MC275344 (published August 3, updated August 31, Microsoft 365 roadmap item 81959) deals with the topic of anonymization of user information in Microsoft 365 usage reports. Until now, the situation has been that the usage reports show full usage data, including details of user principal names and group names with an option for the tenant to choose pseudonymized information. In this situation, anonymized values like A6968D016DB2256910FD3B85B4B0457B replace user or group identifiable information in the reports. You can still understand the overall context of the report and what it tells you about the usage pattern for a workload like SharePoint or Teams, but you can’t dive down into the detail at user level.

Microsoft says that de-identifying user data will help tenants support local privacy laws. The changeover to use anonymized data by default came into effect on September 1, 2021. Users with access to report data now see values like those shown in Figure 1.

Anonymized usage data reported by the Microsoft 365 admin center
Figure 1: Anonymized usage data reported by the Microsoft 365 admin center

Reverting to Real User Data

If you want to revert to see real user information in usage reports, a global administrator can switch through the Reports section of Org-wide settings by clearing the checkbox shown in Figure 2.

The tenant-wide setting controlling anonymization of user information in usage reports
Figure 2: The tenant-wide setting controlling anonymization of user information in usage reports

Updating the setting captures an UpdatedCFRPrivacySettings audit record. For instance, here’s an edited version of the audit record captured when I enabled identifiable user information in usage reports.

RecordType   : CoreReportingSettings
CreationDate : 06/09/2021 19:37:55
UserIds      :
Operations   : UpdatedCFRPrivacySettings
AuditData    : {
                 "ModifiedProperties": [
                     "Name": "PrivacyEnabled",
                     "OldValue": "True",
                     "NewValue": "False"
                 "Id": "639e2bcc-eba9-4146-8885-333622ffb4b0",
                 "RecordType": "CoreReportingSettings",
                 "CreationTime": "2021-09-06T19:37:55",
                 "Operation": "UpdatedCFRPrivacySettings",

Access to User Information Limited to Certain Roles

In the past, this would have been sufficient to let any account holding an administrative role with access to usage data to see user information. This is not now the case as Microsoft has made a further change to confine the ability to see user information to “administrative and report reader roles.

In effect, this means that roles like:

  • Global administrator.
  • Exchange administrator.
  • SharePoint administrator.
  • Teams administrator.
  • User administrator.
  • Helpdesk admin.
  • Service support admin, and:
  • Reports reader.

Can see user information (anonymized or real as selected by the tenant setting), but other administrative roles such as Usage summary reports reader or Global reader, which used to be able to see user information, no longer have access. Users with these roles see only summary graphs (Figure 3).

What a user with the Reports Reader role sees for usage data
Figure 3: What a user with the Reports Reader role sees for usage data

Governs Programmatic Access Too

The change affects usage reports in the Microsoft 365 admin center and the Teams admin center. It also affects programmatic access to usage data through the Microsoft Graph usage reports API, including SharePoint site detail. This is because the usage reports API is the basis for reporting across Microsoft 365.

As noted when Microsoft originally introduced anonymized user data for reports, if the organization generates its own version of usage reports like my Office 365 User Activity Report, you’ll need to make sure to generate the report using an account with a suitable administrative role. Identifiable user data makes these kinds of reports much more valuable, especially if you use the reports to analyze usage patterns based on departments, locations, and workloads, and if you want the reports to contain this information, the org-wide setting to allow identifiable user data must be enabled when the report runs. Arranging for this to be done if the organization decides to use anonymized user information for reporting could be a challenge!

Good for Privacy

There’s no doubt that this is a good step from the perspective of privacy advocates. However, I wonder if obscuring information about how people use technology at the level of detail available in the Graph (like the number of emails sent and read, or Yammer conversations created) will make it harder for administrators to do their job. I agree with the move to restrict access to detailed information to the more highly privileged administrative roles, but wonder how many organizations will try to use anonymized user information before reverting because good reason exists to access detailed data.

Insight like this doesn’t come easily. You’ve got to know the technology and understand how to look behind the scenes. Benefit from the knowledge and experience of the Office 365 for IT Pros team by subscribing to the best eBook covering Office 365 and the wider Microsoft 365 ecosystem.

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