A few months ago I reblogged something from the Michigan Telephone Blog that I didn’t have a good opportunity to discuss in further depth. Prior to the release of Ubuntu 12.10, I’ve had mixed feelings about the operating system. It was the first Linux distribution I ever used. The fact that, at the time of 6.06, it was far more user-friendly than many other distros really helped me to crack into the Linux scene for the first time. The downside of that is many Ubuntu users turn into ravenous fanboys who will spend all their free time on the Internet declaring to the world that Ubuntu is the best Linux distro around, often times when they have little to no experience with other Linux distros. people like that just give Ubuntu users a stereotype in the Linux community that I often don’t want to be associated with.
On the other hand, though, it’s undeniable that I’m more experienced with Ubuntu than other distros. As such I currently have Ubuntu 12.04 installed on both an older laptop of mine and on my media center PC connected to my TV. I’ve continued using Ubuntu through a lot, despite many of the issue it has faced. In particular, it was difficult to deal with the switch from Gnome to Unity until they finally got it sorted out into a usable piece of software. Recently, though, Canonical completely crossed the line with Ubuntu 12.10. The idea of passing all queries in the Unity Dash to Amazon is a massive issue to me. With the default setup in Ubuntu 12.04, it’s impossible to search your local system for something containing personal information without Canonical passing that information along to Amazon. As written by InfoWorld:
This by itself is a problem because nobody intends to search Amazon for sensitive personal information. For instance, someone might search for a file with a Social Security number or with a specific text string that is in no way intended to be read by anyone else. They’re ostensibly searching through their own local file system, after all, and the thought that by default that search string will be sent out to not one, but two, third parties is extremely disturbing.
Likewise, the Electronic Frontier Foundation had the following to say:
It’s a major privacy problem if you can’t find things on your own computer without broadcasting what you’re looking for to the world. You could be searching for the latest version of your résumé at work because you’re considering leaving your job; you could be searching for a domestic abuse hotline PDF you downloaded, or legal documents about filing for divorce; maybe you’re looking for documents with file names that will gave away trade secrets or activism plans; or you could be searching for a file in your own local porn collection. There are many reasons why you wouldn’t want any of these search queries to leave your computer.
While it’s possible to remove the shopping lens from Unity and thus disable the Amazon integration, that it’s enabled by default is completely unacceptable to me. While those in the know will willingly disable it, I see this scenario as Canonical taking advantage of its position as a popular distro with new Linux users who may not be savvy enough to realize the scope of the issue presented by Ubuntu 12.10′s default setup. Plenty of them will leave the shopping lens in place, thus potentially broadcasting personal information out to the Internet. The irresponsibility of it is frustrating, and as I result I would highly prefer to not support Canonical. Given the limited capacity in which I use my Linux systems (the heavy lifting in my home environment is all done by my Windows 8 desktop), both of my Linux boxes will be staying on Ubuntu 12.04 until 1.) the hardware fails or 2.) the 12.04 LTS release hits end of life. If the latter happens, I’ll likely do a clean install of Fedora.