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Evernote Escapes - Another Case of the Privacy Conundrum

by Prabhat Agarwal | Dec 22, 2016

In an age of ever increasing app permissions, can the threat of even more intrusion get app users to change their behavior? The popular notetaking app Evernote was kind enough to unintentionally give us some insight into this matter. On December 9th, Evernote began sending emails to app users informing them of an upcoming change to their privacy policy. The company planned to use machine learning (ML) to enhance the experience of their app users by improving content. To do this, the system would need to access user’s notes. Since the ML technology is still far from perfect, this would require Evernote’s employees (actual humans) to also review the work. While Evernote assured that users can opt out of this program, they made it clear that there was no way to opt out of employees having access to their notes. News outlets picked up the story on December 14th, and chaos ensued.

As evidenced by the withdrawal of the policy on the 16th, users were not pleased with the new policy. From our AppOptix data, there are three distinct spikes in activity, one for each of the three event dates. Though the number of app sessions did not increase immediately, there was a rise in the length of time people were spending in the app after the change notice begins to go out. This can easily be explained as notified users either editing or removing their notes from the app.

A second spike in activity occurred when news outlets from Forbes to Gizmodo started churning out articles about the upcoming policy change, none of which viewed it favorably. Our data indicates there was also an increase in the number of times users were opening the app in a single day, to go along with the longer amount of time spent using the app. The final increase in activity corresponds with Evernote deciding to backtrack on the proposed change.



Privacy policy changes like these are nothing new. After an announcement, the user base typically panics; news articles announce the end of privacy as we know it and users frantically login to make changes or start seeking out other alternatives. In most cases the company eventually succumbs to public pressure or realizes that they’ve made a mistake and either retract or modify the policy, calming users enough to happily go back to using the app. According to our data, fortunately for Evernote, users weren’t yanking the app off their phones in droves, which speaks to their customer’s loyalty.  But going forward, this isn’t likely a move they’d repeat.

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