More than 200 million active users now rely on Microsoft 365, and they create more than 100 petabytes of new content each month within the platform. The market for collaboration tools such as Teams, Zoom and Slack exceeds $17 billion, with a projection to more than double in the coming years. As these tools have grown in user adoption worldwide, their features and capabilities have also expanded at a rapid pace.
One of the latest collaborative features within Microsoft Teams is Loop, a tool that was released for early access in August. It allows users to synchronously create, capture ideas and share content with others in real time, from anywhere. The features in Loop are a boon for productivity and remote work collaboration. Yet, when information created in or modified using Loop comes into scope for a legal or regulatory matter, these features also introduce several complexities in e-discovery.
One of the key capabilities that makes Loop an effective collaboration tool — and likewise complex from an e-discovery perspective — is its real-time, universal functionality. For example, if someone inserts a table into a Teams chat using Loop (which creates a new file type, .fluid), others in the chat can also contribute to the table — and the changes are reflected as they are made. If the Loop table is then shared in email, further changes to it will also appear in the email message. This usability extends to OneNote, meaning that any changes made by any user with access to the Loop file, in numerous Microsoft 365 interfaces, will be universally reflected, in real time, across all locations.
From an e-discovery perspective, the result is an intricate web of versioning, unique data types, disparate locations and user activity that may need to be collected and analyzed for relevance to a litigation or investigation. Loop serves as an example of one of many collaboration tool innovations that are upending traditional e-discovery collection, preservation, processing and review. E-discovery software and workflows are constantly trying to catch up.
So, what are some of the specific e-discovery considerations within Loop and other similar innovative collaboration platforms?
Loop’s .fluid file type is just one example of many new file types emerging in the universe of discoverable data. Files with the .fluid suffix are discoverable within Microsoft 365, but have limited e-discovery workflow support. Currently, .fluid files are stored in the original creator’s OneDrive (a creator is the user who initiated the Loop, not those who later add to it later), where they are available for search and collection in Microsoft’s e-discovery standard and premium offerings. However, early testing has shown that, like many other new file formats, they do not render in preview, and the export format for review is not consumable by existing e-discovery tools.
When opened in any interface other than OneDrive, exported .fluid files appear to be unreadable. Nevertheless, they may contain detailed information, communications and notes that could be relevant to an investigation.
Dynamic Components and Pages
As discussed earlier, multiple people can simultaneously read and contribute to Loop files, which operate similar to a dynamic, collaborative document. Loop Components, which may include project trackers, idea polls, customer records and materials shared between third parties, can appear in multiple Microsoft applications, including OneNote, Outlook and Teams. Components stay up to date across different applications, so team members don’t have to take the extra step of recirculating the latest version of a file.
Pages provide a broader canvas of multiple Loop Components, and are designed to function similar to a shared, dynamic document like those in SharePoint or Google Docs. In a Loop Page, users can enter reactions, insert text, find and/or link related Loop Components, linked content and documents.
The dynamic nature of Loop Components and Pages, and how widely they can be shared and modified, presents unique challenges for discovery teams. In this type of interface, it becomes extremely difficult to pinpoint specific versions or artifacts for evidence preservation and analyze when and how any given individual interacted with any given version.
Loop Workspaces is a standalone application that helps users organize their Loop Components and Pages in a central hub. It allows users and groups to combine the information for a project by connecting files, links and data from other applications in one place, so it can be easily organized and managed by a group. Uses may include checking progress on shared initiatives, tracking feedback and project management. There are currently many unknowns in terms of how e-discovery teams can access, preserve, search and export Loop Workspaces. It’s likely that doing so will require customized tools and workflows that make it possible to parse the data in a way that is compatible with e-discovery tools.
Like many emerging data sources, Microsoft Loop is a new tool that allows remote and hybrid teams to collaborate synchronously and asynchronously over different canvases. Our team has already seen instances of Loop coming into scope in e-discovery and investigations, and it’s likely these instances will increase in the near future. Legal teams should begin preparing now — by understanding the pitfalls that may arise when collecting, processing and reviewing Loop data, and assessing the types of solutions and workflows they will need to overcome them.