Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Founder of GNU shuns Ubuntu - Claims Spyware

The founding member of the Free Software Foundation, Richard Stallman, is advocating the rejection of the Ubuntu distribution, claiming the latest version contains dangerous surveillance code in his recent blog post.

When the user searches their 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. Stallman states, "This is just like the first surveillance practice I learned about in Windows." Ubuntu uses the information about searches to show the user ads to buy various things from Amazon.

Stallman writes, "The ads are not the problem, the main issue is the spying. Canonical says it does not tell Amazon who searched for what. However, it is just as bad for Canonical to collect your personal information as it would be for Amazon to collect it. Free software is suppose to give the user a chance to protect themselves from malicious software behaviors."

Proprietary software is associated with malicious treatment of the user; surveillance code, digital handcuffs (DRM or Digital Rights Management) to restrict users, and back doors that can do nasty things under remote control. Widely used examples include Windows, the iDevices, and the Amazon "Kindle" product for virtual book burning, which do all three. Macintosh and the Playstation 3 which impose DRM; most portable phones, which do spying and have back doors; Adobe Flash Player, which does spying and enforces DRM; and plenty of apps for iDevices and Android, which are guilty of one or more of these nasty practices.

Canonical does offer a way to turn the Amazon search results off. In it's own defense, they claim the revenue received from Amazon for including products links in Ubuntu search results is an important source of funds, and that it benefits the Linux community because the money goes toward developing open source software. Stallman doesn't agree and states, "Any excuse Canonical offers is inadequate; even if it used all the money it gets from Amazon to develop free software, that can hardly overcome what free software will lose if it ceases to offer an effective way to avoid abuse of it's users."

Personally, I don't feel it's that big of a deal since I can turn it off. You can as well, go to System Settings > Privacy > Inlcude Online results in search > OFF. I have always been a proponent of FOSS (Free Open Source Software) and will always prefer it over commercially available titles. How do you feel about it, is it as big a deal as Stallman is making it out to be? This is big news in the Free Software world because Ubuntu is the most widely used Desktop Linux distribution and Stallman is making waves.
-Ubu out
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