Sensitivity Bar Appears in Office Desktop Apps

Sensitivity Bar Informs Users About the Labeling Status of Office Documents

I guess I was surprised when I saw message center notification MC515530 appear on February 15 all about the new sensitivity bar (or sensitivity labeling bar) for the Microsoft 365 apps for enterprise (the subscription version of the Office desktop apps). The surprise didn’t come from not knowing about the bar, because I’ve been using it for months as it’s in the Current Channel Preview release. It’s more that it seems to have taken forever to get a relatively simple (and good) change to general release. The update is Microsoft 365 roadmap item 88517 and will appear in the standard release of Word, PowerPoint, and Excel in March 2023. The Microsoft 365 Insider blog (September 20, 2022) explains how the sensitivity bar works.

It makes sense to show users details of the sensitivity label applied to a document. Office apps show the information shown in Figure 1 when a user clicks on the file name in the application window. You can update the file name, choose a different sensitivity label, save the file to a different location, or see the version history. This functionality is available even if you choose to hide the sensitivity bar (see below). What we’re concerned about here is the addition of the sensitivity label name and the colored shield in what’s displayed.

The name of the assigned sensitivity label appears in the sensitivity bar
Figure 1: The name of the assigned sensitivity label appears in the sensitivity bar

The display of the sensitivity label name in the sensitivity bar now means that Office apps display sensitivity labels in three separate places in the UI: the bar, the sensitivity button, and in the information bar at the bottom of the screen. The lock icons shown in the sensitivity and information bars are visual indicators that the sensitivity label protects the document with rights management.

Eliminating the Unified Labeling Client

Introducing the sensitivity bar is part of Microsoft’s ongoing effort to eliminate the unified labeling client (also known as the Azure Information Protection client). This add-on client was the original software installed to allow users to label Office documents and it included an information bar to display label properties.

The Office apps include native labeling capabilities, meaning that they include the necessary Microsoft Information Protection code to interact with labels, apply rights management encryption, and so on. Native protection means that there’s no need for an add-on client, but before it’s possible to transition all customers off the unified labeling client, Microsoft needs to provide equivalent functionality in the Office apps. Microsoft has been working to give the Office desktop apps equivalent functionality to that gained by installing the unified labeling client since at least 2018. A big step forward happened in 2019 when the Office apps gained native protection support. Now we’re in the final stages of the process when tweaks to the UI like this one and the introduction of colors for sensitivity labels apply the final fit-and-finish.

Hiding the Sensitivity Bar

If you don’t want the Office apps to display sensitivity label names, you can amend the label policy that publishes sensitivity labels to users to add a setting to hide the sensitivity bar. Microsoft’s documentation suggests that this might be appropriate if people use very long file names and want to see that information displayed (they can always see information about labels through the Sensitivity button).

In any case, you can’t disable the sensitivity bar through the Purview compliance center. Instead, run these PowerShell commands to connect to the compliance endpoint, select all label policies, and add the setting:

[array]$LabelPolicies = Get-LabelPolicy
ForEach ($Policy in $LabelPolicies) { 
  Set-LabelPolicy -Identity $Policy.Name -AdvancedSettings @{HideBarByDefault="True"}

To check the setting, run:

Get-LabelPolicy | Format-List Name, PolicySettingsBlob

You should see the setting shown like this:

<setting key="HideBarByDefault" value="True" />

Figure 2 shows the effect, which is quite subtle. Everything that was there before is still present but the label is now represented by a colored shield (meaning it’s a protected document) instead of the shield and label name.

Sensitivity bar hidden means no sensitivity label name alongside the shield
Figure 2: Sensitivity bar hidden means no sensitivity label name alongside the shield

To reverse the setting, set its value to False. The Office apps pick up changes made to label policies the next time they refresh their label cache, so it might take several hours before apps hide the sensitivity bar.

Useful Change for Those Interested in Sensitivity Labels

For most users, the addition of the sensitivity bar is a minor improvement that I find useful (but maybe only because I label every document). The bar serves a useful purpose in highlighting the presence of a sensitivity label (which might have been applied automatically by a label policy), and might help to raise awareness about the need to exercise care when handling confidential information. On the other hand, the sensitivity bar might fade into the background like many other elements of the Office GUI that people only access when they really need to. Of course, if your organization doesn’t use sensitivity labels, you don’t need to worry about the sensitivity bar.

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.

5 Replies to “Sensitivity Bar Appears in Office Desktop Apps”

  1. Oh, great. Another way to clutter titlebar so there is no space to actually grip the window to relocate it..

    1. Would you know how I can get this new UI? I still have the horizontal with 4 buttons on it – Public, Internal… I
      I’ve update office already.

      1. I think you have to wait. It appeared today on one mine PC, but not on others yet. And it is not related to when Office has updated. MS is enabling it a few machines at a time. Maybe it will be available for all in a few weeks.

  2. Can see this new label bar in both my Windows 10 laptops and some teammates for one week already. But on my Windows 11 it still haven’t appeared, as well for a few colleagues using Windows 11. Strange that they pushed it to Windows 10, but not 11 still.

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