Since Edward Snowden hit the news, mass surveillance is a hot topic. No wonder that people are complaining about the privacy problems in Canonicals latest Ubuntu Linux versions. Ubuntu has a search bar in which you type every program you start or document you open. Everything you type in this bar is sent to Amazon (among others). It allows there companies to see when you use your computer and what you use it for. Some people call the privacy endangering component “spyware” or “malicious software”. Let’s look at the definition of spyware:
Spyware is software that aids in gathering information about a person or organization without their knowledge and that may send such information to another entity without the consumer’s consent, or that asserts control over a computer without the consumer’s knowledge. – Wikipedia
This feature is enabled by default. The only way the user is informed is by some legal notice that is buried many menus/clicks deep. I think most users will never see it. This is why I believe it fully qualifies as spyware. In my opinion it would have been okay if an opt-in was presented during the installation, but this is not (yet) the case. Richard Stallman is also very outspoken on the subject:
One of the major advantages of free software is that the community protects users from malicious software. Now Ubuntu GNU/Linux has become a counterexample. What should we do? – Richard Stallman
When Richard Stallman is asking “What should we do?” he does not mean: “How do we disable it?”. Since the answer to that question is easy, let me start with that one.
This is how to disable the Ubuntu “spyware”
If you happen to be running Ubuntu 14.04 and you value your privacy, then do this:
Switching off “online search results” solves your privacy problem, but not the real problem. The real problem is that Canonical is trying to sell their users privacy to make a quick buck.
What should we do about this behavior by Canonical?
I feel that switching from Ubuntu 14.04 to an Ubuntu 14.04 based distribution will send a clear signal to Canonical. I would suggest Xubuntu 14.04 or Linux Mint 17 as good alternatives to Ubuntu 14.04. Or if you are completely fed up with Canonical, then you may want to switch to Debian or even Trisquel Linux. No other Linux distribution (than Ubuntu) has this privacy problem. I believe that once the popularity of Ubuntu drops, Canonical will have to reconsider selling their users (private) data.