Friday, November 8, 2013

canonical: make it opt-in!

People are outraged: Linux Outfit Canonical Launches Campaign to Silence Privacy Critic

About the title of the article: I'm fine with calling it what it is, but not so much with making something out to be what it isn't. From the same article:

The editor of the Ubuntu news site, OMG! Ubuntu!, says that Canonical’s email to “does make for uncomfortable reading,” but Joey-Elijah Sneddon believes that the company is trying to preserve its trademark rights, not silence critics. Although OMG! Ubuntu has been critical of the privacy issues, Canonical hasn’t sent him a nastygram. Were “Canonical really out to suppress criticism, they’d have given me a bit of a prod before now,” he said in an email interview.

As for the underlying issue, however, I agree with Micah Lee (see

Canonical employees: If this still bothers you, there’s a simple thing you can do to make me completely shut down the website. You can require users to opt-in to you collecting information about what they’re searching for on their own computers and then displaying ads to them about it, rather than violating their privacy by default. If people didn’t need to find websites that teach them how to opt out, there would be no reason for me to run

This is what I would like to see happen, but I've seen no indication that Canonical intends to go this route. I do hope that folks in the Linux community will continue to pressure Canonical to change this to an "opt-in" thing. Maybe Canonical will end up changing it; I figure they can't be enjoying the bad press.

In the meantime, the information that Lee provides at may be useful, and is worth repeating here:

gsettings set com.canonical.Unity.Lenses remote-content-search none; if [ "`/usr/bin/lsb_release -rs`" \< '13.10' ]; then sudo apt-get remove -y unity-lens-shopping; else gsettings set com.canonical.Unity.Lenses disabled-scopes "['more_suggestions-amazon.scope', 'more_suggestions-u1ms.scope', 'more_suggestions-populartracks.scope', 'music-musicstore.scope', 'more_suggestions-ebay.scope', 'more_suggestions-ubuntushop.scope', 'more_suggestions-skimlinks.scope']"; fi; echo | sudo tee -a /etc/hosts; echo | sudo tee -a /etc/hosts;

What does this do?

gsettings set com.canonical.Unity.Lenses remote-content-search none -- Turns off "Remote Search", so search terms in Dash don't get sent to the internet

gsettings set com.canonical.Unity.Lenses disabled-scopes "['more_suggestions-amazon.scope', 'more_suggestions-u1ms.scope', 'more_suggestions-populartracks.scope', 'music-musicstore.scope', 'more_suggestions-ebay.scope', 'more_suggestions-ubuntushop.scope', 'more_suggestions-skimlinks.scope']" -- Turns off other remote Dash scopes, just in case (for Ubuntu 13.10 and newer)

sudo apt-get remove -y unity-lens-shopping -- Uninstalls Amazon ads built-in to Ubuntu (for Ubuntu 13.04 and older)

echo | sudo tee -a /etc/hosts; echo | sudo tee -a /etc/hosts -- Blocks connections to Ubuntu's ad server, just in case

Also, users might want to take a look at Dedoimedo's review of Ubuntu 13.10 ("Ubuntu is back with Saucy Salamander!"), where he says this:

As always, you can tweak the privacy options with a single toggle, so I don't see what the big fuss in the media about evildoing and privacy violations is all about really. People do themselves more harm just by using Facebook.

"Linux is about choice," people like to say. Folks can choose not to use Ubuntu -- nobody's being forced to run it. Or they can choose to use Ubuntu, but to run some other environment besides Unity and sidestep the entire issue. I'll probably choose to keep running Ubuntu, either by switching "Include online search results" off or by following steps similar to those mentioned by Lee.


I find it hard to believe that Canonical can't see the sense in reversing course on this issue. Keep complaining, people.

Update -- from Mark Shuttleworth (

This was a bit silly on our part, sorry. Our trademark guidelines specifically allow satire and critique ('sucks sites') and we should at most have asked him to state that his use of the logo was subject to those guidelines. 

Update: Steve George from Canonical had already responded at 

We are obliged to have SOME agreement in place with anyone using the Ubuntu logo. Rules for nominative use are subjective and thus a policy and agreements are required if we want Ubuntu to remain a defensible mark. It's a pain but that's the system. 

In this case we should just have said 'you may use the mark if you say that you are doing so with permission'. I guess a new guy made a bad call, but that happens and there's no point in beating Canonical up over an inadvertent slip.

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