Although Richard Stallman’s tone is often too confrontational and absolute, this time it’s rather shocking news: According to him, in some versions of Ubuntu, any file searches you do are sent to Canonical, and from there to Amazon, to customize ads (like Google does with email). The details are few, such as which search interface we’re talking about, which versions of Ubuntu are affected, and how to actually turn this off (I looked in what I thought were likely places in the System Settings app of Ubuntu 12.04.1 LTS without any luck), but if this has actually reached mainline releases it’s bye, bye Ubuntu! Sending user information to somewhere which doesn’t provide a service which that user has requested is wrong, and sending it to a third party is just despicable.
I’m a long-time Ubuntu user and software developer, and I’d never heard of this – If I thought about the Ubuntu Software Center ads at all, it was as a nuisance which I could easily get around by using the web to find software I need.
I’m hoping to see more clear information about this soon, but the only other link in the Phoronix article is down at the moment.
Canonical’s Jono Bacon has a response (Google cache) which skips the actual issue completely: We should continue to cooperate with the Free Software Foundation, we’re doing great work with free software, and so on. But as you can see from the response there’s no mention of the possibility of asking the user if they want to opt in to this. At the absolute very least, users should not be helping third parties to serve more efficient ads unless they have knowingly agreed to it. This kind of software should not even be installed by default, in case it is “accidentally” activated. But since everybody knows that nobody reads EULAs, and Canonical obviously wants the money, I sincerely doubt this is going to get fixed.