Why Evernote’s Privacy Policy Missteps Are Great for Evernote Users

Why Evernote’s Privacy Policy Missteps Are Great for Evernote Users

I’ve been using Evernote since the note-taking service was launched in 2008.

I’ve used it on nearly every desktop and mobile platform the service has been on. I’ve stuffed its servers with trivial things, like songs I want to listen to later, and entrusted it with some of my most important personal documents.

My life is in Evernote.

When news broke that Evernote was going to roll out machine learning and change its privacy policy to allow humans to spot-check my data — without my permission, and with no way to say, “Please stop” — I was stunned. I was angry. I was worried.

This was especially shocking considering that Evernote has claimed to stand by its Three Laws of Data Protection. Had Evernote given up on that?

I wasn’t the only user with concerns, either. The tech world blew up, with #Evernote becoming a trending topic on Facebook and Twitter.

Fortunately, the story doesn’t end there. Here’s how Evernote responded to the backlash — and what I think it means for Evernote and its users moving forward.

(If you’re already familiar with this story and just want to know why I think it’s a good thing, skip down to Evernote’s Next Steps with Security.)

Evernote’s Response to Its Community

Evernote heard from its users loud and clear — and to its credit, Evernote reps responded fast. Within hours, they announced that they would not be enacting the new privacy policy:

We recently announced an update to Evernote’s privacy policy that we communicated poorly, and it resulted in some understandable confusion. We’ve heard your concerns, and we apologize for any angst we may have caused.

While the privacy policy isn’t changing, something many (including myself) had taken for granted is that some Evernote employees already had the ability to view users’ notes, under some circumstances:

Do Evernote Employees Access or Review My Notes?

As a rule, Evernote employees do not monitor or view your personal information or Content stored in the Service, but we list below the limited circumstances in which our employees may need to access or review your personal information or account Content […]

That’s a pretty standard disclaimer for a cloud service . . . but it’s just not enough assurance. Not when Evernote says users should trust it with their lives — work, private documents, personal identifiable information.

Blind trust just isn’t going to cut it. We need a clearer expectation of privacy.

Evernote’s Next Steps with Security

After the fiasco, many Evernote users moved on to OneNote or simply abandoned cloud storage altogether, while the remaining community continued to press Evernote for reassurance of their privacy. And Evernote stepped up:

Good businesses are built on trust and collaboration — not only within their own walls, but also between the people who build a product and the people who rely upon it. You place billions of your most important thoughts and ideas in Evernote; we must honor that trust by ensuring they remain private and confidential.

What started as a huge breach of trust has led to Evernote taking steps to make it far more secure and private than it has ever been. What Evernote is doing:

  • Heightening controls internally, further limiting how employees can access data (overseen directly by CEO Chris O’Neill)
  • Partnering with leading privacy experts to redefine its approach to privacy, both now and in the future
  • Assembling an Evernote Customer and Community Advisory Board, giving customers a voice in major decisions such as this one

My Future with Evernote

This whole situation has certainly shaken my faith in Evernote, but I’m optimistic that it will earn back my trust. While we should have had this conversation long ago, it’s good we’re looking at this as a community now and not later.

As the dust settles, we can look forward to an Evernote that is more secure, more private, and more transparent to its users.

And once this is all sorted out, I’ve got to admit that this machine learning stuff they’re working on . . . it’s got potential.

If you want us to let you know know the next time the Internet breaks, something amazing happens, or I just want to write about Evernote again — please subscribe to our newsletter: