This left many users feeling a sense of betrayal. The resulting outrage to the changes was intensified by the fact that although users could choose to opt-out, their data could still be accessed for other purposes such as for law enforcement requests.
Even the fact that these Evernote employees with access to this user data will be “subject to background checks and receive specific security and privacy training at least annually,” or that the data will be anonymised, did not make matters any better. The immediate disapproval from customers led to Evernote backing away from its planned policy changes and soon after release a blog post explaining the company’s efforts to provide better privacy in the future.
This reaction from customers presents one of the major obstacles in front of company’s wanting to embrace AI. It is not just Evernote who have come to realise this. Google’s digital assistant in its messaging app Allo collects and analyses user data in order to answer questions about the weather, directions or other queries. But the data collected needs to be unencrypted in order to power this AI feature. Google does offer the option to encrypt data, which, when chosen, causes the digital assistant to cease to exist. Engineers at the company know that in order to stay competitive and assure its customers its commitment to privacy, this option has to be provided. It almost has no choice.
Thus, one reason why AI may pose significant privacy problems is that the technology relies on masses of unencrypted data in order to work well. By having access to a wide range of data, tech firms can enable more accurately working AI-powered features. Alpha Go, the AI-powered machine which managed to beat Lee Sodel in a five-match game of Go (Sodel is considered one of the board game’s greatest ever players), relied on masses of data to evaluate millions of possible moves and determine which ones were best to win. The more data available, the better AI can perform.
Furthermore, the attitude of many programmers and software developers may also present issues. For those at the likes of Google, and perhaps now Evernote, being aware of their customers’ concerns about privacy and data protection, are perhaps more alert to this. But for other programmers, more often than not, privacy and cybersecurity are only an afterthought. Building nifty new features into its software is a priority.