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Evernote Said It Will Read Customer Notes to Improve Machine Learning

December 14, 2016, 11:12 PM UTC
Businesswoman taking notes in conference room
Large group of corporate business people
Photograph by Klaus Vedfelt via Getty Images

Evernote is trying to improve its digital-note-taking service, but it needs to access and read customer notes to do so.

In a corporate blog post published this week, the company said it’s updating the terms of its privacy policy to include a change that lets its employees access user notes to improve its machine-learning technologies. Machine learning technologies can allow powerful software to sift through data to find patterns and better automate tasks.

Evernote said the decision to have some of its employees read user notes, effective Jan. 27, 2017, was done to “make sure that our machine learning technologies are working correctly, in order to surface the most relevant content and features to you.”

The company elaborated that although its current “computer systems do a pretty good job, sometimes a limited amount of human review is simply unavoidable in order to make sure everything is working exactly as it should.”

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Employees chosen to review user data will be subject to background checks and receive security and privacy training at least annually to ensure they are up to date on the latest privacy and security requirements and standards, the company said.

Both individual users and business customers that prefer to not have Evernote scan their employees’ notes can have their account managers choose to opt out of the service, although they will also not have access to the machine-learning capabilities.

If customers want to utilize the machine learning technology but want to keep Evernote employees from looking in certain notes, specific notes can be encrypted to “add an extra level of protection to privacy information,” the company said.

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Evernote seems to have recognized that the decision to have employees read customer notes is controversial and included in its blog post a section titled “I really don’t like this change and don’t want Evernote employees to see my notes. What are my options?” The company also described a way for customers to vacate Evernote’s service and export their data due to the controversial decision.

Various Evernote users voiced their frustration via Twitter:


It’s unclear if Evernote updated its privacy policy in light of the company’s recent decision to move its corporate infrastructure—which includes its customer data—to Google’s (GOOG) cloud computing service.

In September, Evernote chief technology officer Anirbin Kundu told Fortune’s Barb Darrow that Google’s machine-learning technology services were a big draw to the company selecting Google from other cloud computing companies that he did not name.

“Many people put travel itineraries, and we can notify you if your flight is delayed,” Kundu said at the time regarding how Evernote planned to use Google’s (GOOG) machine learning tools.

Fortune contacted Evernote and Google for more information and will update this story if it responds.

Update, 3:28 PM PST:

An Evernote spokesperson wrote the following:

The decision to use machine learning was not dependent on anything in particular. We want to improve the service and see the advent and availability of many machine learning tools as very promising. The big thing that’s changing is around the accuracy of the tools, especially those from Google. We have access to some of those tools as a Google customer, and the cloud migration is coming close to completion, but those are not dependencies.

Update, 3:43 PM PST:

A Google spokesperson wrote to Fortune to say that Google does not access to customer data:

Google Cloud Platform does not have access to customer data. All data is encrypted at rest, between Google’s cloud regions, and between Google and the customer.