Instant messages, public or private?

I received the below tutorial about messaging in MS Teams and thought it would be worthwhile to share, in particular as many of you are transitioning to using Teams for your consultation groups.  This was created by Quinn—the Director of VA Informatics.  It explains the privacy (or lack thereof) of chats created in Teams, and describes the different types of chats you can have.  If you haven’t seen something along these lines yet, I highly recommend reading—and perhaps even keeping!  There are screen shots that really help ‘show’ exactly what the different chats look like.
A question that’s come up with MS Teams is whether chats are private anymore.   As with many things in life, the answer is “it depends.”    Here’s a quick explanation/demo of sending messages in MS Teams that will shed some light on privacy in 4 principles and 6 screenshots.  Woo hoo!
  • PRINCIPLE 1:  There are two different ways to send messages to others in MS Teams.  One is through Chat:     The other is by sending messages through Teams Channels:     They look pretty similar when you’re sending messages, but because they have different implications for who can see your messages, it’s important to be aware.
  • PRINCIPLE 2:  MS Teams keeps everything you type.  This means that your chats with others won’t disappear when you log out.  They’ll instead be embedded within ongoing conversations, just like text messaging on your phone.  This also means that it’s important to keep your messaging professional: you can of course can send private messages to others in Teams, but even private messages stored in VA’s system of records may later be discoverable under FOIA.
  • PRINCIPLE 3:  Using Chat in MS Teams works pretty much the same as instant messaging in Skype.  You can send private messages, add individuals to chat strings, add a call or share your screen while messaging, etc.   The biggest difference from Skype is that your IM strings in MS Teams won’t disappear when you log off.
  • PRINCIPLE 4:  Messages sent through Teams Channels are meant for the whole team.  When you send messages with this tool, other members of the team and/or channel will see them.  It’s that straightforward.  You can highlight an individual you want to make sure sees your message, but everyone else will see it, too.  This is what Teams Channels are designed for—to communicate with a group.
Here’s a hypothetical example of 4 messaging scenarios—4 ways I might use MS Teams to send a message to Dr. Marcia Hunt--that may help illustrate what’s private and what’s shared”
  1. Individual Chat
  2. Group Chat
  3. Public Team Channel - personal message
  4. Private Team Channel – personal message
Individual Chat.  First, I use the Chat feature of MS Teams to send a message to Dr. Hunt.  This message is private.  Only she and I can see it.  I know I’m chatting with only Dr. Hunt because I see her name (and only her name) in bold at the top of my screen.  If more people were on the Chat, I would see their names there as well.   Also, I can add a call or screenshare to our chat, just like with Skype, by clicking one of the purple icons at the top right.
The next time I open Chat in MS Teams and look for Dr. Hunt, these messages will still be there as part of our running conversation, just as with text messaging.

Group Chat.  While I’m messaging Dr. Hunt in Chat, we decide to loop in Dr. Jay Cohen.  I add him to the chat by clicking on the “more people” icon at the top right of the screen.  This creates a new, separate 3-person chat string.  My previous messages to Dr. Hunt are still just between her and me.  As before, I can see who I’m talking to by looking at the names at the top of the screen.   I can also see on the left that I now have two separate chat strings, one with Dr. Hunt and one with Dr. Hunt and Cohen.
The next time I go to chat with both Dr. Hunt and Dr. Cohen, this 3-person string will come up, with today’s conversation intact.
= = = = = = = = = = = = = =
For the next two scenarios, suppose that Dr. Hunt and I are both members of a team in MS Teams called  “OMHSP SME’s.”  I’ve selected the Teams icon on the left to see my different teams.  To message someone within the SME team, I need to use one of the “Channels” within the Team.  This team has two Channels -- a public one called “General” that any member of the OMHSP SME team can see, and a private one (notice the padlock?) called “OMHSP Cerner Council” that only personally-invited members of the OMHSP SME team can access.

3. Public Team Channel – “personal” message.  I go to the General channel and post a message to Dr. Hunt.  This is a team discussion, not a private one, even though I’ve addressed Dr. Hunt specifically by typing in “@Hunt” and then selecting her name.  Everybody on the OMHSP SME team will see my message to Dr. Hunt the next time they go to the General Channel on the SME Team.  Anyone on the team can reply to my message, too.  And if someone new joins the OMHSP SME team six months from now, they can look back and see my message to Dr. Hunt as well.  The moral of the story: team discussions are truly meant for the whole team.   Note that I can tell I’m messaging on a Team Channel (rather than a Chat) because the name of the Channel (“General”) is in bold at the top of the page rather than the name of a person.  Also, the Teams tab is selected on the left side of the screen and the word “Teams” is in bold at the top left.


4. Private Team Channel – “personal” message.   Finally, I send Dr. Hunt a message within the private OMHSP Cerner Council channel.   Even though this is a private Channel, that only means that access is limited to members of the OMSHP SME team who’ve been personally invited to the Channel.  My message to Dr. Hunt won’t be available to the whole SME Team, but it will be visible to all members of the OMHSP Cerner Council channel.   As before, I can see that I’m messaging within a Channel and not a Chat because the Teams tab is selected on the left and the name of the Channel is shown in bold at the top of the screen.
Q:  Could you create a private channel within a team that includes just you and one other person?
A:  Sure, in principle, if you want.  But it would probably make more sense to use Chat to message someone individually/privately than to communicate with them one-to-one using a tool made for group communication.
Pro Tip:  in MS Teams, you can go back and edit and/or delete your messages in Chat or Channel conversations.   We couldn’t do this in Skype.  It’s like CPRS—the deleted messages are still hidden somewhere in the background and likely discoverable through a FOIA request, but they’re no longer part of the visible, active Channel or Chat string.  To edit or delete a message you’ve sent, just hover over your message until you see the emojis (see below), then click on the ellipsis at the right to get a drop-down menu.  Piece of cake!