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This Time, Evernote Consulted Its Users Before Revising Its Privacy Policy

After a previous revision caused an uproar, the company chose its words more carefully–and made sure to let customers opt in to revealing their data.

This Time, Evernote Consulted Its Users Before Revising Its Privacy Policy
[Photo: Pexels user Anastasia Zhenina]

Last December, Evernote announced plans to update its privacy policy. Most notably, it changed the wording to help it use machine-learning technology to make its note-taking service smarter, based on analysis of its users’ notes. Those changes, which were supposed to go into effect on January 23, were met with a tremendous amount of backlash from the Evernote community. What Evernote meant to be a way to help make the product better for users, its most loyal fans saw as a change that would give Evernote employees unfettered access to users’ private notes.

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“We screwed up, and I want to be really clear about that,” Evernote CEO Chris O’Neill told me back in December after many customers promised to leave the platform. “We let our users down, and we let our company down.”

The uproar prompted the company to put the new policy change on hold so it could think further about how to approach privacy in a way that gave users confidence in the service going forward. Today it’s releasing a new privacy policy based on that introspection. In many ways, it does the same things as the December revise that never went into effect. But it makes it much clearer what notes Evernote will have access to–and crucially emphasizes that users will opt in to sharing their data, not will not be forced to do so.

“It starts with modernizing the policy,” O’Neill says. “We think that modern privacy policies should be straightforward. They should be simpler and shorter and written in user-friendly language both for our end users that use our products as an individual and those that use it in a business context.”

And that’s just what Evernote has done. The new policy is written in much simpler and easy-to-understand language and is housed in a new privacy center on Evernote’s website, making it easy to find.

Consulting The Watchdogs

In making its revisions, O’Neill says, “we spent an inordinate amount of time with privacy experts and watchdogs. We really, really vetted a lot of what we’ve done with them and got their blessing and approval.”

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That sort of approval from the outside world is something that the company plans to get for any changes it decides to implement down the line. To help facilitate that, it’s put together a customer advisory board that it plans to meet with quarterly to seek input on “things big and small,” O’Neill says.

While Evernote focused on communicating its policy more clearly, one thing users will see is a new opt-in clause when they decide to take advantage of a new feature. If it requires some level of human training for the machine learning to work, you can opt specifically into sharing your info in conjunction with that one feature. Humans having access to notes is what got Evernote in hot water with users back in December, so it’s being exceedingly specific this time around about who will have access to your notes and when. And it will always do so with your expressed permission, not by default.

The new policy clearly spells out what types of data Evernote might collect about you while you’re using the service, and then explains why it needs that data with examples of how it would be used. It also goes into more detail on how the company might push back against government requests for information and when and how it might share that information.

And those unhappy campers who declared their intention to leave Evernote back in December? O’Neill says that the company “didn’t see material impact” from those threats. The hope is that the new policy will ensure that the company and its users have a mutual understanding of Evernote’s commitment to privacy from now on.

“Our philosophy has never changed,” he says. “We’ve gone through a lot of extra steps to make sure that what we propose is fitting and objectively great. There’s been no change in the types of data we collect–we’ve just simplified the language so people are clear about that.”

About the author

Emily is a journalist based in San Francisco.

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