I’ve been using Ubuntu since 6.06 LTS (Dapper Drake) and have used every single release since, granted I have been searching for a new system since Ubuntu 12.04 LTS (Precise Pangolin). So far I’ve tested Debian, Fedora, Mint, and some others; I’ve even contemplated going back to Windows, but seeing where they’re heading starting with Windows 8 I think I’d rather not. I still however have one machine that is running Windows 7 because of some software I use the is available for Windows only. I had also contemplated turning to Apple, but the cost of ownership is too high for my wallet.
Why I liked Ubuntu
When I started using Ubuntu back in 2006 it was a clean system, very straightforward and easy to use. Everything was within a few clicks of the mouse. The interface, while not similar to what I was used to with Windows was quick to learn and it made sense. Ultimately it was the easiest one for me to move into Linux with. I did try some other distros at the time but they proved a little too involved for a newbie like myself. With Ubuntu as with other Linux distros, customization is something that you could do to your heart’s content. I even converted my desktop to look like the terminals they used in the Matrix at one point along with other styles all without knowing much about working in the shell.
Why I changed my mind
Until their move to Unity they had everything going for them as far as I’m concerned. When they released Unity, I still wanted to give them a chance; after all, I had been using their OS for 6+ years. The last straw for me was when they started to track searches and report it to Amazon and who knows who else. A huge privacy concern. This became more concerning to me after the issues with the Government spying on citizens and such. Yes, I know the old saying: “if you’re not doing anything wrong you should have nothing to worry about.“ but that is not a good enough excuse for me here is an article that describes why that is a flawed reasoning. Spying is spying no matter what. I’d use that argument too and say, “If a nation isn’t doing anything wrong then they have nothing to worry about” right?
Anyway, back to the reason for the article. This all started when Ubuntu started their shopping lens feature. The EFF (Electronic Frontier Foundation) did a really nice writeup on this issue stating that “the on-line suggestions that appear in the Dash as ‘Amazon-affiliated advertisements for products’, adding that the feature presents users with a “major privacy problem” that could expose Ubuntu users to everything from wireless snooping to unwanted entreaties from advertisers. and Privacy International called the feature ‘fundamentally problematic’ and described its implementation as ‘flawed’.
Technically, when you search for something in Dash, your computer makes a secure HTTPS connection to productsearch.ubuntu.com, sending along your search query and your IP address. If it returns Amazon products to display, your computer then insecurely loads the product images from Amazon’s server over HTTP. This means that a passive eavesdropper, such as someone sharing a wireless network with you, will be able to get a good idea of what you’re searching for on your own computer based on Amazon product images. – EFF
Of course you can remove it by opening terminal and running this command:
sudo apt-get remove unity-lens-shopping
You can also switch to a different desktop like KDE, GNOME, etc. But honestly there should be no need to go through all the hassles to ensure your privacy.
Privacy International – a UK charity founded in the 1990′s to ‘defend the right to privacy across the world’ had this to say:
The lack of explicit user consent is fundamentally problematic, and the implications can be significant. Linux distributions are generally excellent at promoting user privacy, security and independence. Users legitimately expect that documents on their desktop remain private, and desktop search should not expose those search terms beyond the system itself.
It certainly does not meet the ethos of the free software community aiming to widen the use of free and open source software.”