Free Software Foundation founder Richard Stallman has now attacked Ubuntu distribution calling it a \’spyware\’ and as bad as Windows. Stallman said that the latest version of the Linux-based operating system, contains dangerous \’surveillance code\’.
In his post on the FSF blog, Stallman has criticised Ubuntu and the company behind it for adding the search feature in the latest version of the distribution. According to him, this version of Ubuntu sends packets to Canonical\’s servers without the knowledge of the users.
Canonical had first introduced the \’Home Lens\’ unified search feature in Ubuntu 12.10. The feature inserts product recommendations from Amazon into the search result, irrespective of whether the users searched the web or local files. Stallman wrote, “This is just like the first surveillance practice I learned about in Windows. My late friend Fravia told me that when he searched for a string in the files of his Windows system, it sent a packet to some server, which was detected by his firewall. Given that first example I paid attention and learned about the propensity of \’reputable\’ proprietary software to be malware. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Ubuntu sends the same information.
Ubuntu uses the information about searches to show the user ads to buy various things from Amazon. Amazon commits many wrongs (see http://stallman.org/amazon.html); by promoting Amazon, Canonical contributes to them. However, the ads are not the core of 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 have been for Amazon to collect it.”
Stallman is not the first person to criticise Canonical\’s search but he is certainly one of the most influential people and whose opinion is significant for the free software users. After pressure from the users, Canonical did start providing a way to turn off Amazon search results but it is not good enough, said Stallman. He wrote, “Ubuntu allows users to switch the surveillance off. Clearly Canonical thinks that many Ubuntu users will leave this setting in the default state (on). And many may do so, because it doesn\’t occur to them to try to do anything about it. Thus, the existence of that switch does not make the surveillance feature ok. Even if it were disabled by default, the feature would still be dangerous: \”opt in, once and for all\” for a risky practice, where the risk varies depending on details, invites carelessness. To protect users\’ privacy, systems should make prudence easy: when a local search program has a network search feature, it should be up to the user to choose network search explicitly each time. This is easy: all it takes is to have separate buttons for network searches and local searches, as earlier versions of Ubuntu did. A network search feature should also inform the user clearly and concretely about who will get what personal information of hers, if and when she uses the feature.”
Canonical debates that the revenue it gets in return from Amazon for including product links in Ubuntu search results is an important source of fund. The Ubuntu maker also emphasises that the fund benefits the Linux community as it goes towards the development of open source software.
Stallman rubbishes the srguement saying, “It behooves us to give Canonical whatever rebuff is needed to make it stop this. 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 the users.”
Stallman argues that the malicious code included in Ubuntu is damaging the entire free software community. He has a suggestion to get rid of the problem too. Just say \’no\’ to Ubuntu! He writes, \”If you ever recommend or redistribute GNU/Linux, please remove Ubuntu from the distros you recommend or redistribute,\” he writes. \”In your install fests, in your Software Freedom Day events, in your FLISOL events, don\’t install or recommend Ubuntu. Instead, tell people that Ubuntu is shunned for spying.\”