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Evernote Clarify Controversial Privacy Policy

Evernote found themselves in murky water recently, following an update to its privacy policy which seemed to grant the company permission to access any of its user’s data at whim. The policy change was due to take effect on January 23rd and seemed to read that users could not opt out of this program, one which was supposedly in place to allow select employees to view data for the purpose of improving their machine learning algorithms.

As one might expect, the change created an uproar on social media. Many users, some who pay for the service, expressed a strong disliking for the change, claiming that they would shut down their accounts and cease payment where applicable. It wasn’t long until the story hit the news.

The sentences that caused controversy were included in Evernote’s frequently asked questions regarding the change to the privacy policy: “If you would prefer to opt out of machine learning technologies on your content (including some which require some human review for oversight purposes), you can do so in your account settings, where it says, 'Allow Evernote to use my data to improve my experience.”

So far, so standard. Though it’s questionable that you have to opt out of this data collection, at least the option is there. However, what followed raised some serious questions: “If you do opt out, however, you may not be able to get the most out of your Evernote experience. And please note that you cannot opt out of employees looking at your content for other reasons stated in our Privacy Policy (under the section, 'Does Evernote Share My Personal Information or Content?').”

Following the storm, Evernote CEO Chris O’Neill has published a clarification on the change in policy. He admits that they communicated the change poorly, which resulted in confusion. He noted that they’d heard all of the concerns and apologised.

The company have clarified that users can opt out of their research programm. While users currently have to put things like to-do lists or travel itinerates together manually, they explained that they want to increase user productivity by making these sort of things automated. This is where machine learning comes in, which O’Neill states still needs a human to check to ensure the technology is doing its job and to develop it further.

This change will still be introduced on January 23rd, but users can control whether their data is used for this purpose. However, the company have not changed the fact that they can still access user data in particular circumstances, regardless of the machine learning program opt out.

In the update to the privacy policy, Evernote named those circumstances as ones where they believe their terms and conditions have been violated, where they need access for customer service purposes, and complying with warrants and other legal orders.

All of this amounts to the fact that putting your data in the hands of a third-party is always going to be a risky thing. It’s recommended that you review the changes to Evernote’s privacy policy and consider whether you still want to store your data with them.

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