Dec 14th, 2016

Heads-up: Evernote has a big privacy policy change being enacted today, and this one sounds pretty scary. The company says that they’re permitting several (but “a limited amount”) of employees to read your notes.

They’re doing so in the name of machine learning, because apparently they need humans on hand to help their AI systems learn and understand things. That’s fair on a practical level, but no less concerning.

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Evernote says that the employees who will be able to look at your notes have had extensive background checks to ensure they won’t use their newfound powers for evil or filth. As comforting as they try to make that sound, we’re not so sure it’s helping us feel better about it. Surely, one can opt out, right?

Yes, you can… well, sort of. Evernote will let you opt out of data reporting for the purposes of machine learning, but they do state that employees can still look at your notes for other reasons. Now, these reasons are mostly for less shady needs like law enforcement warrants, examining data for potential violations of their privacy policy, and if you ever give them explicit consent.

But their document was just a bit too vague on the overall policy and practices. Is there something that determines whose notes need to be looked at for machine learning advancement? Is there any protocol in place to ensure those employees don’t overstep their boundaries? How does Evernote determine whose files to investigate for violating the privacy policy? Will users even get notified when someone peeks into their notebook?

You can already tell we don’t like it, at least not in its current form, and you can bet we’ll be asking Evernote if they have plans to be more transparent and descriptive about their actions going forward. Thankfully, there are a few different things you could do to shield yourself in the meantime:

  • As already discussed, you can opt out of the machine learning data sharing program. This doesn’t mean they won’t ever look at your notes, though, but it’d be less likely if you aren’t doing anything wrong.
  • Evernote’s document encryption feature lets you lock your documents up so that not even they can access them unless you give them the key. Unfortunately, you’d have to do this for each and every one of your notes instead of being able to lock the entire notebook down. And, to be honest, we wouldn’t blame you for not wanting to do anything with Evernote, which leads us to…
  • Leave the service and set up shop elsewhere. Evernote has export tools available for you to download all your notes. Keep them offline and organized in your own encrypted folders, or find another trusted service which doesn’t need to pry into your personal life for its own personal benefit.

The one thing every Evernote user should do, though, is give their thoughts on the change, even if you happen to like it (we’d bet against that being the norm). We’ve seen in the past how vocality can lead to change when it comes to these sorts of things, so shout as loud as you can!

[via Evernote]