One of the great features about Teams is persistent chat, but with great features comes great responsibility.
While Microsoft Teams is an awesome communications tool, it's important to understand some of its nuances in order to better protect your own privacy and data. We're here to help you navigate Teams meetings and chat rooms so you can do just that.
Skip to a section:
- Protecting confidential chat history
- Creating separate group chats with the same people
To start off, here are two common scenarios you may run into.
- Scenario 1: You keep receiving random group chat messages and you're not sure you should be privy to them.
- Scenario 2: Your group chat messages are being seen by other users and you're not sure how they gained access to your group chat.
When you're invited to a Teams meeting, whether you attend or not, you will see any messages that are submitted to that meeting's chatroom until you select to Leave the room, or until someone else selects to Removes you from it. Once removed from the room, you will only have access to the chat history up until you were removed from the room.
And if you have the meeting link and click to join the meeting, you will be able to re-enter a meeting room and/or chat room that you either left or were removed from. If you chose to click to join the meeting, you would then have access to A) the previous chat history up until you were removed the first time and B) comments submitted from when they re-join the chat room up until they leave or are removed again from the chat room.
There are four objects at play:
- standalone chat room (aka "group chat")
- meeting link
- meeting room associated with meeting link
- chat room associated with meeting link
Standalone group chat rooms are created from the Chat tab and don't have an associated meeting link. Chat history management for these is a little easier than with chat rooms associated with a meeting link.
You can think of a meeting link as a skeleton key to two rooms: a meeting room and a chat room. These two rooms are separate but connected, and are created each time you generate a new Teams meeting link. Each set of rooms should have their own unique meeting link/key. Once these rooms exist, they exist indefinitely for participants to enter or exit as long as they have the meeting link.
If you have the meeting link, even if you were removed from that meeting, once you click the link, you can start the meeting and/or re-join the chat at any time.
This is particularly crucial information for meeting organizers, which leads us into the scenario below.
Protecting confidential chat history
Scenario: Let's say you have a regularly reoccurring Leadership Team meeting scheduled in Teams, but occasionally you invite other staff to the meeting so they can present something to the Leadership Team. That reoccurring Microsoft Teams meeting might have highly sensitive and/or confidential information for the Leadership Team's eyes only... How do you protect that information from the occasional guest staff speaker?
Option 1: Create a new, unique meeting
The best practice for safeguarding truly confidential data is to create brand new, unique meetings.
This may seem like an administrative hassle, but it is a critical necessity to protect extremely sensitive conversations. As noted above - even if you temporarily invite a user and then remove them from the meeting - if a guest user still has a meeting link, they will be able to re-join the meeting room and the chat room at any point in time.
Option 2: Add participant with chat history restrictions
If you are not as worried about data leakage, you have some additional options to add users to a recurring meeting without including previous chat history for that user.
- In your meeting chat room, you can click the participant icon, then click Add people.
- Input the user(s) you want to add to the chat.
- Select the chat history option to apply to that individual or group of users. In most cases, you'd want to select "Don't include chat history" and then click Add.
- The user(s) will then be added to the chat. If you selected "Don't include chat history" then they will not be able to see instant messages prior to their addition to the meeting.
- Once you remove the user from the meeting, they will no longer be able to view ongoing conversations in that meeting.
- If this is a standalone group chat, they will no longer be able to participate in the chat.
- If this is a chat room associated with a meeting link, if the user has a meeting link, they may be able to re-join the chat room.
Additional items to note regarding removal
When you remove the guest user from your meeting, you will see a notification that says "They'll still have access to the chat history."
In the case where you had applied the "Don't include chat history" option to them, that just means they'll have access to the chat history that was available to them from when they joined the meeting up until they were removed from the meeting.
Below you'll see a comparison of what users will see.
Above is an image of what the guest user sees. Note that they only have access to the chat history from the point they were added until the point they were removed, and once removed they can no longer send additional messages to that group (unless they have a meeting link they can use to re-join the chat at some point).
Below is an image of what the original meeting participants see. Note the conversation prior to the guest being added, and the conversation after the guest was removed. (The "John Doe" that says, "Hi I don't see any chat history prior to 'Hi Guest'" is the guest in this case - the other "John Doe" is a different user.)
If you have a recurring high-level meeting, but every now and then you know you'll have a guest staff speaker presenting, you could always create a one-off separate meeting. However, in that case you'd want to ensure all the original participants of the high-level meeting know to join the one-off meeting instead of the regularly reoccurring meeting. This is an option that might work in certain situations, but generally we would recommend choosing Option 1 or 2 instead (because in this option, you risk people getting confused about which meeting to join).
Creating separate group chats with the same people
NOTE: In this section, our focus is on standalone group chats, not chat rooms associated with meeting links.
Scenario: Let's say you've created a group chat with Oliver and Esther to work on Project A. You've renamed the group chat as "Project A" just for clarity. But then you've also all been assigned to work on Project B! When you go to create a new group chat with Oliver and Esther, you find yourself back in the "Project A" group chat. How do you create an actual separate group chat with the same people?
- Using the example scenario, you'll need to temporarily remove one of the participants from the original group chat (in this case, "Project A").
- Now create a new group chat with Oliver and Esther. You can choose to rename it at this time or later (in this case, the new group would be "Project B").
- Then re-add the participant (the one you had temporarily removed) to the original group chat ("Project A").
- Now you have the exact same participants in two separate group chat conversations!