On Wednesday, Evernote announced that in January, it would begin allowing some of its employees to read user notes in order to improve the company’s machine learning technology. Users reacted furiously, with some fans on Twitter calling the policy "disgraceful" and an "abuse of trust."
By Thursday, the app’s developers had backtracked on the controversial policy. Now, users must choose to opt into the machine learning program.
The policy was originally supposed to go into effect on Jan. 23, 2017, but after brief attempts to try to reassure customers, Evernote decided yesterday to backtrack.
The clause that seemed leave customers most upset was one that discussed the option of choosing not to participate in machine learning technologies development, which would include some employee review of data. In order to opt out of this development, customers would have to choose "no" to the portion of their privacy settings that said, "Allow Evernote to use my data to improve my experience."
Evernote now says that while it is "excited" about the possibilities offered by machine learning, it is sorry for the breach of privacy implied by this clause. Customers can still choose to participate in the machine learning program, but they will have to do so deliberately.
Customers who choose not to participate in the machine learning program, Evernote suggested, could miss out on a better user experience.
According to Evernote’s terms of service, however, employees have always been able to see certain user data to comply with legal requirements, such as when there are reports of harmful or illegal content, and in order to troubleshoot. The company does not sell user data, according to its stated policies.
Evernote is not alone in confronting questions about user privacy online. In May, for example, dating app OkCupid came under scrutiny for a study involving user information. Although the researchers claimed their data was already "public," by being available on the site, OkCupid members took exception to their information being used without notification, further muddying the already murky waters of online privacy.
Most recently, Yahoo users are reeling after the company revealed that a 2013 data breach exposed approximately 1 billion people to hackers.
“Trust is at the heart of our service,” said O’Neill in a statement. “That means we need to be transparent, admit our missteps, and commit to making the Evernote experience the best it can be, from the way the app functions across platforms to the way we communicate with the people who use it.”