Shortly after free software godfather Richard M Stallman criticized Ubuntu for spying on users via Amazon lens, Jono Bacon, the community manager at Canonical posted a long blog post regarding his personal opinion about RMS’s critisim. RMS has asked users to quit using Ubuntu because it exposes a big loop hole into user’s privacy and can lead to his personal life being effected.
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 is just like the first surveillance practice I learned about in Windows. My late friend Fravia told me that when he searched for a string in the files of his Windows system, it sent a packet to some server, which was detected by his firewall. Given that first example I paid attention and learned about the propensity of “reputable” proprietary software to be malware. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Ubuntu sends the same information.
Today Richard Stallman, founder of the GNU project and Free Software Foundation wrote a critical post accusing Ubuntu of shipping spyware (which is referring to the online search capabilities of the Ubuntu dash).
He goes on to suggest “in your Software Freedom Day events, in your FLISOL events, don’t install or recommend Ubuntu. Instead, tell people that Ubuntu is shunned for spying.“.
This is FUD.
Bacon further says that user’s privacy is important to them and they have always strived to keep it as the first priority during the last eight years. However, the way one defines privacy may differ from one person to another. Just like some people will be overwhelmed by the fact that someone may read what they are searching in the dash, some people will simply not care what happens in the backend of the search.
I have tremendous respect for Richard and his fantastic work in laying the foundations for the Free Software and Open Source world that we have today, but I think he is short-sighted at times. His views on software projects are pretty binary: either a strict set of ethics (defined by him) are observed, or it should be shunned.
But unfortunately, as far as Richard is concerned, if Ubuntu doesn’t meet his specific requirements around privacy or Free Software, irrespective that it has brought Free Software to millions of users and thousands of organizations, and despite the fact that you might not share his viewpoint, you should shun it.
This just seems a bit childish to me.
There were a whole lot of debates going on around the interwebs regarding this issue, and people giving mixed opinions on the matter. While Canonical continues to make Ubuntu better everyday, it has some hurdles to overcome and people to please to be a really successful project.
However, if you want to disable the Amazon results in dash, it can be done with just a single click under privacy settings.