GNU project creator calls Ubuntu a spyware, accuses it of tracking searches
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The free software foundation (FSF) leader Richard Stallman has slammed Ubuntu as spyware. The GNU project creator is furious over the new feature of Ubuntu 12.10 dash that shows results from Amazon in addition to the results local to a computer. He calls it as a breach in user privacy, a fundamental that free and open source software should strictly adhere to. Though this feature of Ubuntu dash has been criticized by lot of people but words coming from a person like Richard Stallman are bound to get attention.
Here is an excerpt from what exactly he said :
Ubuntu, a widely used and influential GNU/Linux distribution, has installed surveillance code. When the user searches her own local files for a string using the Ubuntu desktop, Ubuntu sends that string to one of Canonical's servers. (Canonical is the company that develops Ubuntu.)
This feature is developed to suggest online results (from Amazon.com) in addition to results from user's computer. If and when a user purchases a product from Amazon through this process then Canonical gets some money as affiliate payments. Canonical maintains that they anonymize all the user specific information that is received on their servers and all the money earned from this feature is being used to develop and improve Ubuntu further.
Here is what Mr. Stallman has to say about this :
It behooves us to give Canonical whatever rebuff is needed to make it stop this. Any excuse Canonical offers is inadequate; even if it used all the money it gets from Amazon to develop free software, that can hardly overcome what free software will lose if it ceases to offer an effective way to avoid abuse of the users.
Though Canonical has provided an option where-in a user can turn off this feature if he/she does not want it but Richard does not seem to be impressed by this at all. He goes on to say that :
Ubuntu allows users to switch the surveillance off. Clearly Canonical thinks that many Ubuntu users will leave this setting in the default state (on). And many may do so, because it doesn't occur to them to try to do anything about it. Thus, the existence of that switch does not make the surveillance feature ok.
Canonical downplays this as FUD
Though there is no official comment from canonical on what Richard Stallman has said but Mr Jono Bacon, who runs community management at Canonical expressed his views on his personal blog.
He says that :
This is FUD. When controversies such as this kick off from time to time about Canonical and/or Ubuntu, my approach has never been to try and convince our critics that they are wrong. My goal is not to turn the unbelievers into worshippers at the church of Ubuntu. My only goal has been to ensure that everyone who participates in the debate trades in facts and not in misinformation and FUD; there is enough misinformation and FUD on the Internet without us all adding to it. :-)
He further defends this feature :
What lies ahead?
With so many people raising their voice against this feature of Ubuntu, It looks like the road ahead is not going to be easy for Canonical. As of now the company seems to be undeterred by any of these controversies which is evident from the fact that Ubuntu 13.04 will include more strengthened version of this surveillance system.
Here is an excerpt from canonical's blog :
Smart Scopes – In 13.04, the number of scopes installed by default in Ubuntu will be increased and relevancy will be improved. For example, a search for “The Beatles” is likely to trigger the Music and Video scopes, showing results that will contain local and online sources – with the online sources querying your personal cloud as well as other free and commercial sources like YouTube, Last.fm, Amazon, etc. To achieve this, the Dash will call a new smart scope service which will return ranked online search results, which the Dash will then balance against local results to return the most relevant information to the user.
It will be interesting to see how user's will react to this feature. Will they accept it or will they trash Ubuntu (as suggested by Mr Stallman).
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