This story has been updated with comment from Microsoft.
An update to the Mac version of Microsoft Outlook will let users store a hugely detailed amount of personal information about their contacts, including their blood group and star sign.
The changes are part of an upcoming update for Office for Mac, which is currently available for testing by “Insiders” - Microsoft’s term for customers who test upcoming versions of its software.
The Microsoft release notes for version 16.41 of Office for Mac notes that you’ll be able to “view and set age, blood type, astrology sign, and interests for your contacts”, in a new drop-down menu that allows you to add “additional information” about your contacts.
There’s no suggestion that Microsoft will collect this information on users’ behalf, but it raises questions about the storage of highly personal data within the software. Outlook Contacts are not encrypted by default, instead relying on users to apply computer-wide encryption solutions such as Microsoft’s own BitLocker technology or the FileVault encryption that is built into macOS.
The addition of blood group data, in particular, suggests Microsoft is encouraging users to store personal medical data in Outlook. That raises the risk of data theft if laptops are lost or computers are hacked.
Responding to this article on Twitter, Matthew McFadden, a program manager for Outlook said that, even though the new fields are described as “new features” in the Microsoft release notes: “Outlook for Mac has allowed users to add these fields to their personal contacts since Outlook 2011 for Mac. These field where missing in the new Mac version and have been re-added at customer request.”
It’s not clear whether the new features will be added to the Windows version of Microsoft Outlook. The Mac and Windows versions of Outlook, while sharing many of the same features and design cues, are developed by separate teams within Microsoft. The Mac version of Outlook is often criticized for lagging behind its Windows sibling in terms of features.