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Evernote CEO: 'We Messed Up' on Privacy

Evernote has rolled back controversial privacy policy changes, saying it will no longer allow employees to read user data to improve the service's machine learning technology.

"You've let us know that we messed up. We listened, we're truly sorry, and we're taking immediate action to fix it," CEO Chris O'Neill said on Twitter late Thursday.

This week, the cloud note-taking service stirred resentment among users when Evernote Corp. said it was revising its privacy policy as part of a plan to implement machine learning next year. The change, which would have gone into effect Jan. 23, would have allowed an extremely limited number of Evernote employees to review anonymized user data to improve machine learning algorithms. Users could avoid letting Evernote employees read their notes by opting out of the machine learning service, Evernote said. (See Evernote Caught in Privacy Imbroglio.)

When users wrote angrily about the change on social media, and said they'd dump Evernote, the company issued a clarification on its blog later in the week. (See Evernote: 'We Communicated Poorly' on Privacy Change.)

Then, very late Thursday, the company posted again: Just forget it, they said.

"[W]e we will not implement the previously announced Privacy Policy changes that were scheduled to go into effect January 23, 2017," according to the post by Greg Chiemingo, senior director of communications for Evernote.

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"[W]e will make machine learning technologies available to our users, but no employees will be reading note content as part of this process unless users opt in," Chiemingo says.

Evernote also plans to update its privacy policy in the current months "to address our customers' concerns, reinforce that their data remains private by default, and confirm the trust they have placed in Evernote is well founded."

Evernote has -- and will continue to -- review user data for law enforcement purposes, such as when subpoenaed or to prevent or mitigate violations of its terms of service.

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— Mitch Wagner, Follow me on TwitterVisit my LinkedIn profile, Editor, Light Reading Enterprise Cloud

kq4ym 1/7/2017 | 5:16:41 PM
Re: Listening It is interesting to watch how privacy issues can really get customers riled up. I've never used Evernote and it products but wonder how I'd feel even with the original plan to have a "limited number of Evernote employees to review anonymized user data." Maybe the use of anonymized data in particular would not have bothered me if I got an improved product?
mendyk 12/20/2016 | 9:33:36 AM
Re: correction The whole concept of digital privacy is fast becoming an oxymoron. Developers of neural networks will need to use all those bottomless reservoirs of data to create the thinking machines that will run things by the time we get to 2040. Right now, we think of privacy in personal terms. Big data is less about individuals than it is about profiling human behavior. It's not a clear and untangled distinction.
Row3n 12/19/2016 | 11:41:05 PM
Re: correction I can't imagine the kind of damage that has already happened from the oversight on the finance systems and personal data storage areas but at least the company is doing something about it. I've a feeling that all the people affected are going to be complaining that it's only about time that action is taken though! 
danielcawrey 12/19/2016 | 7:22:05 PM
Re: correction I can understand why people would be concerned. Evernote hasn't exactly performed well the past few years, so the company seems to want to mine some data. Users shouldn't have to accept that, and it's clear they don't. Good call for Evernote to roll this back. 
Michelle 12/17/2016 | 11:27:25 AM
Listening Watching the PR nightmare unfold was very interesting. It was good of Evernote to scrap the unpopular policy early on. I read about it and waited to see what they would do before I left the service for good. I was really surprised they made the choices they did for the new privacy policy.
mendyk 12/16/2016 | 4:00:34 PM
correction So this wasn't about a poorly worded communication after all.
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