Bye, privacy: Evernote will let its employees read your notes

Consumers can't opt out of being snooped on for the purpose of training algorithms

Evernote is changing its privacy policy to let employees read its customers' notes, and they can't opt out. 

Users have until Jan. 23 to move their notes out of the company's system and delete their accounts if they want to avoid the sanctioned snooping. Companies using Evernote Business can have their administrators opt out, but users won't have individual control over it.

The change a push by the company to enhance its machine learning capabilities by letting a select number of employees view the private information of its users to help with the training of algorithms.

"While our computer systems do a pretty good job, sometimes a limited amount of human review is simply unavoidable in order to make sure everything is working exactly as it should," the company said in a support bulletin.

Consumers and businesses can opt out of the machine learning features in Evernote's settings. Businesses that choose to opt out will have their notes kept private from the software company's employees, but won't get the benefits of the new features. Consumers who opt out of machine learning can still have their notes read. 

Employees who have access to customer data are subject to background checks and special training on security and privacy, Evernote said. Notably, the company did not say it will be anonymizing users' content. It may be possible for those employees to not only see what users wrote, but also who they are.

Evernote didn't respond to a request for comment. 

Users who want to stick with Evernote and keep their information private will have to open each of their notes in the desktop app, select all the text in a note, right-click, and choose to encrypt the selected text. Encryption won't work for other content inside a note, like photos, audio, and other files. Users can view encrypted text only on mobile. 

The new privacy policy is something of a bizarre move, considering the recent focus on technology that helps people keep their data private, especially following the U.S. presidential election. 

People who want to move their data away from the service can use the app's export function to save all their notes as HTML files with attachments saved as linked files. A number of competing note taking apps also allow users to import files from Evernote, including Microsoft OneNote, which offers users a dedicated importer. Bear, a Mac and iOS app that Apple named one of the year's best, can easily import files exported from the service as well. 

"Fortunately bears *can't* read: they are the best keepers!" the company tweeted in response to Wednesday's news. 

Bear uses Apple's CloudKit to sync user notes, so it's impossible for the app's developers to read the contents of what people have written. Microsoft didn't immediately respond to a request for comment about OneNote's privacy. 

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Blair Hanley Frank

IDG News Service
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