Office 365 unified labeling explained

Last year Microsoft published unified labeling for Office 365. The whole term is a bit mysterious. What does it actually mean? How does it actually work? I’m gonna answer this questions in this article.

Unified labeling is dependent on Azure Information Protection (AIP) licensing. You can find the licensing sheet here. Basically it is included in E3 and E5 licensing, but not in Business licensing. If you have existing AIP configured, you migrating to unified labels is probably something you need to do first. There are two different label types, sensitivity and retention. Let’s take a closer look at what those are and can be used for.

Sensitivity labels

Sensitivity labels basically means the same labels that we had in AIP. With sensitivity labels users can set document sensitivity level and based on that level you can encrypt the document, set permissions on the document, add content marking (watermark, header or footer) and endpoint protection settings (currently on Windows Information Protection (WIP) is supported). Sensitivity labels can be defined by the content creator in Office client. The biggest difference is that labels are defined in Security & Compliance center and the end users will need the new version of AIP Client installed (AzInfoProtection_ul.exe).

Unified labeling sensitivity menu and bar

You also have option to set label automatically based on certain rules (i.e. if there is credit card number in the content). Earlier you needed AIP P2 licensing for automatic labeling, but this feature is now included in unified labeling “for free”. Otherwise sensitivity labels work the same way than AIP labels.

Retention labels

Retention labels can be used for retaining content for certain time or deleting the content automatically after certain time. Retention labels can also be set automatically based on file location (SharePoint library, folder or document set) or certain rules. After publishing sensitivity labels you can set default label in library or folder settings.

Folder settings
Apply label to items in this list or library -page

Please note that it might take 24h for retention labels to appear and 7days!! for automatically applied labels to appear after publishing.

Other option is to set it manually in SharePoint, OneDrive or Outlook per item. You can find more information here.


One would think that you could link these labels together so that the labels would be unified so that end user only selects one label but unfortunately that cannot be done currently. The only way to kind of link labels to each others is to use automatic labeling and to use the same rules or sensitive information types.

End users may also find labels confusing because of the way how they are set and shown. Sensitivity labels can only be set and show in Office client. There is a sensitivity column available in SharePoint Online document library though, but at the moment of writing it did not show document sensitivity label (instead it was just blank). Retention labels cannot be set shown or set in Office client, it is only available in SharePoint, OneDrive or Outlook.

What unified labeling actually means is that you have the same sensitivity label experience no matter how or where you are consuming your information. It covers non Microsoft file formats, services and platforms also. For more information see this YouTube video.

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