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Problem:

We are experiencing some strange search results for our external users in our tenant. Internal users will for example see 9 documents in a search result, while external users for example only see 2 documents.

Permissions:

The external users can see and open/edit the documents in the document library, as expected. However, when searching either inside the document library (using the in-place search box), in the search box on the top of the page, or using for example the Highlighted Content WebPart, only 2 documents appear.

I could understand if the external users didn't see ANY documents in the search result. But when they actually see 2, where is the logic behind this? What triggers the hiding of the 9 remaining documents? And why?


Internal users:

Here is a list of the documents in the document library viewed by an internal user:

enter image description here

And here is the same list of the documents presented through the Highlighted Content WebPart (which is using Search).

enter image description here


So far, so good...


External users:

Here is the same list of the documents in the document library viewed by an external user. The external user has the same access level on the document library (and the whole site for that matter), and therefore sees the same number of documents:

Document Library for external user

But here is the result of the Highlighted Content WebPart for the external user. As you can see, only two documents appear.

enter image description here

Related links:

I have found some related discussion on the topic, but none of them explaining this behavior:

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  • External users have permissions on the documents they can't find in search results? Dec 10 '20 at 9:47
  • Yes, that is correct. They can see and open/edit the documents in the document library, as expected. However, when searching either inside the document library (using the in-place search box), in the search box on the top of the page, or using for example the Highlighted Content WebPart, only 2 documents appear. I will updated my initial questions with these additional comments. Dec 10 '20 at 14:08
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Whether these documents been individually shared? Or whether these documents have unique permissions?

Please check each documents' "Has access".

enter image description here

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  • Hi Emily, the external users have Full access to the documents in the document library. I have updated the initial question with additional comments and screenshot. Dec 14 '20 at 8:13
  • It's weird. I suggest you open a ticket with Microsoft. Dec 22 '20 at 2:16
  • Thanks, our client has already done so. :-) Dec 22 '20 at 10:07
  • If you have feedback, you could update the post. Dec 23 '20 at 1:25
  • Still awaiting solution, I will update the post once we have solved the case. Jan 4 at 10:51
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We have finally figured out what caused this. Thanks to Microsoft Support for helping in this matter. It seemed that certain documents were copied from an internal SharePoint intranet solution, which contained Sensitivity labels. Azure Information Protection was also enabled. When these documents were copied to the SharePoint Online site, these came into play when Microsoft Search evaluates the visibility of these documents. Hence that the users do actually have Full access to them through the document library, but not could see them through Search.

Explanation from Microsoft Support:

The missing files were marked as internal documents through AIP or Sensitivity label. Microsoft Search is evaluating the information barriers and it displays only the content not marked as Internal.

Steps for reproducing the scenario, and Microsoft Support's suggestion for resolution:

We took one file, saved it locally and cleaned the Document properties (File > Document Inspector).

When the cleaned file was uploaded to the library, it was listed by the web part once it was indexed (after few minutes).

Our products are built to protect the information and when things are not very clear (two different labels applied) we prefer to display less information than to reveal data to external users.

It is expected to see a difference when doing the query with external and with internal user. We understand it’s not the best experience and we’re doing our best to improve here, but it’s a long project.

As an alternative, you may use Library web part instead of Highlighted content web part to show the list of files.

Additional suggestions to resolution, in recommended order (what worked for us:)

  1. Elevate Guest user access in External Collaboration Settings in Azure to allow Guest users to have same access as Members. See this article for more information
  2. Promote your Guest users to Members in Azure. For more information how to achieve this, see this article
  3. Instead of listing documents through Search, try using CAML querying instead (for example using the Highlighted Content WebPart

Note that number 1 and 2 requires you to evaluate your guest users, whether they should and could be considered internal member users.

Hope this helps.

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