Evernote backtracks, makes employee peeking opt-in

Well that was quick. Just as Evernote's privacy mess escalated rather quickly, its resolution came quickly as well. Whether forgiveness and redemption will also quickly follow remains to be seen. Sensing that a inconsequential apology from CEO Chris O'Neill wasn't enough to quell flaring tempers, Evernote has quickly followed with a statement that they are revising their stance. Sort of. They will still offer users the "privilege" of enhancing their experience by letting employees read snippets of notes. This time, however, they're making it optional by default rather than the other way around.

There were two main points to Evernote's privacy faux pas. The first, and probably the most contentious, is that its new privacy policy gives its engineers permission to look at portions of users' notes in the name of double checking that the machine learning system is doing its job well. The second part of the fiasco is that this "feature" was intended to be turned on by default, requiring users to be aware of it and jump ship.

Evernote is addressing only the second point really. Come January 23, 2017, when the new privacy policy takes effect, users who know nothing about the change won't have to do anything. Their notes remain private by default. Those who want to join this effort to improve Evernote's services will have to explicitly opt into the program, a reverse of what Evernote intended to do.

So to be clear, Evernote hasn't changed its view that peeking into users' notes is necessary to improve its machine learning system. It's just making it optional now. While that could indeed placate some worried users, the question remains whether Evernote's fundamental premise is actually correct, not to mention legal.

To its credit, Evernote at least gave a (somewhat silent) heads up about the change, which can't be said of other services that similarly do some content scanning of its own. And at least it had the humility to apologize for its error and, to some extent, rectify it. This, however, is just the latest in a series of missteps that Evernote has taken of late, and it's sure to cause another exodus of users, if not executives even.

SOURCE: Evernote