John Koetsier, VB Insight 0
Richard Stallman, the grand old man of open source software and current president of the Free Software Foundation, is calling Canonical’s Ubuntu Linux “spyware” and calling on the open source community to uninstall the software, shun the company, and “give Canonical whatever rebuff is needed to make it stop.”
Ubuntu is one of the most popular versions of Linux. Stallman is talking about its new network search feature, which he believes spies on the users:
Canonical CEO Mark Shuttleworth talked about the feature on his personal blog, prophetically subtitled “here be dragons.” Essentially, searching your files on your computer is also, by default, an online search. That online search includes potentially relevant results from Amazon, and if you buy something, Canonical gets a cut. This is not advertising, according to Shuttleworth:
“We’re not putting ads in Ubuntu. We’re integrating online scope results into the home lens of the dash.”
That extremely fine, perhaps microscopic distinction has escaped some of Canonical’s customers, who are wondering why, in the first place, a desktop search should be integrated with an online search, and why, in the second place, that online search wouldn’t be a Google search instead of a online retailer.
As JunCTionS says in a comment on Shuttleworth’s blog post:
For Stallman, however, the core issue is not advertising, although that’s certainly unwelcome. The core issue is the exchange of personal user information … even though Canonical does not send any personal information to Amazon, running the Amazon search query on its own servers based on information that it retains.
That has failed to mollify RMS, who wrote that “it is just as bad for Canonical to collect your personal information as it would have been for Amazon to collect it.”
Shuttleworth’s answer seems to be: just trust us. After all, we control your machine anyways — we have administrator privileges on your computer:
That is not very compelling or simpatico.
In a post on the Canonical blog today, the company addressed the issue again, at least to a degree. After running through the new capabilities — searches for the Beatles will bring up their music on Amazon, where it can be instantly purchased without opening a browser — Canonical says that privacy has been a primary concern while developing this service:
Aside from the issue of how unusual it would be for someone to be searching their own computer for commercially-useful queries like “the beatles,” or “Lord of the Rings movie,” this is unlikely to satisfy privacy advocates.
And it most certainly will not satisfy RMS.
photo credit: Maurizio Scorianz via photopin cc, Hat tip: Ars Technica
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