(Credit: Microsoft)

Business chat apps are becoming big business. Slack has emerged as the market leader, but Microsoft Teams (Android, iOS) is gearing up for a real fight. The company recently made a preview (beta) version available for free, whereas it used to require an Office 365 subscription. This maneuver worked for Internet Explorer back in the day, allowing the company to undercut Netscape Navigator and eventually displace it as the world's default web browser.

While times have changed for Internet Explorer, lightning can strike twice in the same place if you get the right set of conditions.

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Now that Teams appears to be gaining new ground since it became available to the general public, Microsoft has announced at its annual Ignite conference held this year in Orlando, Florida, that it's adding the ability to record meetings and automatically blur backgrounds.

Blurring can be handy for a number of reasons. Beyond filtering out visual distractions, blurring can protect the privacy of bystanders who happen to be within view of the camera; hide sensitive images and text from view without having to remove them from the frame (like a blueprint for an invention, or the formula for a new algorithm); bypass having to tidy up a busy workspace; and maybe even help protect the confidentiality of a user's specific location.

Microsoft says that these new "live event capabilities" will be available later this year.

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Streamers on Twitch (Android, iOS) customarily hide everything going on behind them, partly because of a disturbing trend where troublemakers will call the police and falsely report a violent crime in progress at that location. This can lead to the streamer being shot and killed by police in the confusion, as well as emergency resources being diverted at a time when they may genuinely be needed elsewhere.

Of course, Microsoft Teams isn't a streaming broadcast platform, but a little safety can go a long way -- and it's a clever way for the company to showcase its increasingly sophisticated advancements in AI-based image processing. While facial recognition may sometimes be used to erode privacy, it can also be used to protect it.

The takeaways

  • Microsoft Teams, the company's competitor to Slack, is adding a feature to automatically blur the background during a video chat, using image processing AI.
  • The feature will be added to Teams "later this year."

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Tom McNamara is a Senior Editor for CNET's Download.com. He mainly covers Windows, mobile and desktop security, games, Google, streaming services, and social media. Tom was also an editor at Maximum PC and IGN, and his work has appeared on CNET, PC Gamer, MSN.com, and Salon.com. He's also unreasonably proud that he's kept the same phone for more than two years.