Evernote backs off from privacy policy changes, says it 'messed up'

Employees will not be reading note content unless users opt in, the company said

Evernote has reversed proposed changes to its privacy policy that would allow employees to read user notes to help train machine learning algorithms.

CEO Chris O’Neill said the company had “messed up, in no uncertain terms.”

The move by the note-taking app follows protests from users, some of whom have threatened to drop the service after the company announced that its policy would change to improve its machine learning capabilities by letting a select number of employees, who would assist with the training of the algorithms, view the private information of its users. The company claims 200 million users around the world. 

The machine learning technologies would make users more productive as they would allow the automation of functions now done manually, like creating to-do lists or putting together travel itineraries, O’Neill had said earlier on Thursday in defense of the proposed changes.

Evernote employees would only see random content in snippets to check that the features are working properly but they wouldn't  know who it belongs to, and personal information would be masked, he added.

The changes to the privacy policy were to come into effect on Jan. 23.

By late Thursday, however, O'Neill was taking measures to fix the crisis caused by the proposed policy change. “We announced a change to our privacy policy that made it seem like we didn’t care about the privacy of our customers or their notes. This was not our intent, and our customers let us know that we messed up, in no uncertain terms. We heard them, and we’re taking immediate action to fix it,” he said in a statement.

The Redwood City, California, company will make machine learning technologies available to its users, but employees will be not be reading note content unless users opt in, Evernote said in a blog post.

Evernote added that its three laws of data protection, laid out in 2011, remain unchanged and user data will be of the user, protected and portable. The company plans to revise in the coming months its existing privacy policy to reinforce that customers’ data remains private by default, and “confirm the trust they have placed in Evernote is well founded.”

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