Microsoft 365 Groups: Public vs Private [Differences]

Microsoft 365 Groups: Public vs Private [Differences]

If you’re new to the Microsoft 365 ecosystem, then you may be wondering about the difference between public and private groups.

You may have seen a variant of that question on various websites and forums.

In this article, I will explain the difference between public and private Microsoft 365 groups and how to change the policy from one to the other.

Let’s get started.

What are Microsoft 365 groups?

A Microsoft 365 group is a part of the Groups service of Office 365.

It can be described as an email-enabled security group with additional capabilities such as:

  • The ability to provide access to shared content via SharePoint and OneDrive To-do items, notes, and pages accessible on Yammer, regardless of whether the person has a Yammer license or not
  • An Outlook group calendar and a shared Planner To-do list
  • Microsoft 365 groups have been designed to be the replacement for Office 365 distribution lists

In essence, they provide all of what you currently get from an Office 365 distribution list plus much more.

A Microsoft 365 group can contain both users and other Microsoft 365 groups as members.

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    Public vs Private Microsoft 365 Groups

    As mentioned before, a Microsoft 365 group comes in two flavors:

    1. Public
    2. Private

    Here is a table that summarizes the difference between a public group and a private group in Microsoft 365:

    DefinitionAll users can see the group and its contents.Only approved members can see the group and its contents.
    Default optionThe default option.Has to be specified.
    MembershipAll users can join the group without the need for permission from the group owner.Only group owners can add or delete members. Users can apply to join the group.
    OwnershipOriginal owners can make any member an owner of the group.Original owners can make any member an owner of the group.
    DiscoverabilityAll users can discover the group by browsing or viewing groups. All users can then join the group once they find it.Can still be discovered when users browse groups. However, users can’t see the contents of the group and must wait for the owner’s approval to join.
    Inviting othersAll users can invite anyone to join the group, including external guests, as long as the default setting was not changed.Only the group owners can invite a user to the group. They can also invite external guests as long as the default setting was not changed.
    Group files accessAll users can join and view, edit, and add files in groups without approval from the group owner.Only approved members can view, edit, and add files in the groups.
    Group files sharingAll users can share with other users. All users can also share with external guests, as long as the default setting was not changed.Only approved members can share with other users. They can also share with external guests as long as the default setting was not changed.

    The first one is public — the most common type of group.

    When you create a new group via the Groups > Create Group menu option in Office 365, Outlook, SharePoint, or in the Microsoft 365 admin center, it will be created as a public group by default.

    If you change nothing, emails sent to this group are sent to all group members which are also public.

    As for the users, anyone can join a public group even without permission from the Group Owner.

    In addition, those members have full access to all the assets in the group, and can add, edit, or even delete anything.

    The second type of Microsoft 365 group is private.

    When creating a group, you will have to specify in the privacy settings that the group is to be set as private.

    This will lock the group, leaving the group owners the only people who can add members to the group.

    The first time a member tries to view the group, he will automatically be asked for permission — which you can either approve or postpone.

    On top of everything else, members cannot access resources outside what is explicitly allowed by the administrator of the private group.

    How to change the privacy settings of a group?

    Public groups usually work at the start, when there are only a few members in the organization.

    This works well with small businesses that use a company-wide site or calendar and freely share the contents with the members.

    Unfortunately, this doesn’t work well with large companies, as it will usually result in chaos and loss of confidentiality.

    Fortunately, it’s quite easy to change the privacy settings of any Microsoft 365 group.

    To do so, simply visit the tenant Microsoft 365 admin center.

    Then, find and click “Active teams & groups”, which you can see inside the “Teams & groups” category in the left navigation bar.

    You can see all the groups in the active teams and groups page

    On the next page, you will see a list of all the groups created in the tenant.

    To change the privacy setting of a certain group, simply click on its name.

    Click the name of the group to change its settings

    Then, go to the “Settings” tab and change the privacy to your preferred settings.

    Don’t forget to click the “Save” button.

    To change a group from public to private and vice versa, simply change its privacy settings

    Know the difference between public and private Microsoft 365 groups

    Microsoft 365 groups are effective for handling communications within an organization, but they must be used wisely.

    Public groups are great for distribution lists.

    However, they’re open to everyone in the tenant and lack policies around data loss prevention (DLP) and e-discovery.

    On the other hand, private groups allow administrators better control around membership and sharing of information, plus policies around DLP and e-discovery.

    With the right usage, Microsoft 365 groups are extremely beneficial to your organization’s productivity.

    Is everything clear now regarding the two types of privacy settings in Microsoft 365 groups?

    If you have more questions, feel free to comment them down. You can also reach me directly through my contact page.

    About Ryan Clark

    As the Principal Solutions Architect at Mr. SharePoint, I help companies of all sizes better leverage Modern Workplace and Digital Process Automation investments. I am also a Microsoft Most Valued Professional (MVP) for Office Apps & Services.

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