Let me start by saying that I've been a happy and consistent user of Evernote for as long as it's been around. In fact, the first entry that I made in Evernote dates from late May, 2008, and contains notes for a review of the application, which was just about to go into open beta.
I honestly don't remember what I wrote about it at the time; however, I can tell you that since then, Evernote has been my go-to application for almost any kind of text record I needed. I've used it for taking notes at press events, tracking websites that I found useful, storing the copious information I needed one year when I was dealing with a couple of real estate transactions, keeping copies of PowerPoint presentations, storing copies of receipts and travel expenses, working on short stories -- and many, many other things. At the moment, I have 5,647 notes in Evernote -- and I understand that there are other users out there who have over twice as many.
Until recently, I had no reason to doubt that I would stick with the company, and that my notes -- and my privacy -- were safe. Oh, I'm quite aware that anything that's in the cloud is hackable and therefore not absolutely tamper-proof. But the company seemed strong, and conscientious, and concerned with its users' needs, so I continued to use what I considered a highly valuable product.
The first hint of trouble emerged last June, when Evernote changed its pricing plan, raising its prices and putting several new limits on its free accounts. There was an outcry and some users threatened to desert -- and may have done so. I considered it, looked at some alternatives -- and finally shrugged, ponied over the cash, and made a note to reconsider the matter in a year's time.
In other words, there's a strong possibility that an Evernote employee will have access to some fairly personal and sensitive information. Evernote tries to reassure its users by saying that only a limited number of Evernote employees will be able to access your data, and those who do will be subject to background checks and "receive specific security and privacy training at least annually." I don't find that reassuring at all. I know how unseriously some employees take security and privacy training.
What can you do?
There are some things users can do. They can go into their account settings and uncheck a box that says "Allow Evernote to user my data to improve my experience." Presumably, that means that our notes will not be used as a learning experience for the folks on Evernote's development team.
Evernote also suggests that users can encrypt text within their notes. However, when you have several thousand notes -- and several hundred that you'd rather not expose to the curious gaze -- single-note encryption doesn't seem practical.
UPDATE: On December 15th, Evernote CEO Chris O'Neill sent out an email explaining their new policy in more detail. He reiterated that the reason for the changes were important for the new machine learning features and that users can opt out (by unchecking that "Allow Evernote to improve my experience..." box); he also stated that the data will be anonymized and any personal information will be automatically masked from the employee -- and that the company FAQ will be updated in a few days to reflect this. The letter does not address the issue of employees reading the material for troubleshooting purposes.
How different is this?
So has Evernote become so intent on being competitive that it has adopted an unusually intrusive policy? It's hard to say. There are few other note-taking products with the scope and features that this one has.
So what's the upshot?
There are a number of alternative applications being suggested as well, which I hope to look into -- and report on -- over the next couple of months.
Last time I looked, I couldn't find anything that adequately replaced it. This time, I'll probably look harder.