Fans revolt over Amazon 'adware' in Ubuntu desktop search results

Shuttleworth: Don't be mad, you trust us with root anyway


Ubuntu loyalists are furious that shopping suggestions from Amazon will be plonked into desktop search results, shown when users attempt to find stuff on their computers and the local network.

Canonical, the company behind the GNU/Linux distro, has done a deal with the web bazaar to suggest products worth buying to punters. Links to these items will appear on the desktop of the next big release of Ubuntu, namely version 12.10. In return, the software company will take a tiny cut of any purchases made through the links.

The "Home Lens" is the universal search feature built into the Unity Dash and used by Ubuntu users for local as well as online search. The new deal with Amazon means that, according to punters, if you use Home Lens to find a file called, say, "journal" on your computer, this query will be sent off unencrypted to Canonical's server and return as a link to Amazon for "Taylor Dupree - Journal [2011] $2.79" among various suggestions. Woe betide anyone searching for something more personal or sensitive.

The affiliate deal with Amazon has stirred the hackles of the Ubuntu faithful, who see the new on-by-default "feature" as a sell-out to the etail giant. Upset Ubuntu users fear their data will be skimmed by Amazon and used to sell them things while carefully tabulating their porn-viewing habits.

Defending the decision, Oliver Ries, head of engineering product strategy at Canonical, said that revenue was important to Ubuntu:

…if a user clicks the item and purchases it, it will generate affiliate revenue that we can invest back into the project (in a similar way to how we generate revenue from the Firefox search
bar).

We have found affiliate revenue to be a good method of helping us to continue to invest in maturing and growing Ubuntu.

And billionaire Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth has stepped into the debate to reassure Ubuntu users that Canonical is not selling them all down the river:

We are not telling Amazon what you are searching for. Your anonymity is preserved because we handle the query on your behalf. Don’t trust us? Erm, we have root. You do trust us with your data already. You trust us not to screw up on your machine with every update.

Shuttleworth also stressed that these "shopping suggestions" are not adverts, but genuine search results from a company that just happens to have an affiliate deal with Ubuntu:

We’re not putting ads in Ubuntu. We’re integrating online scope results into the home lens of the dash. [...]

These are not ads because they are not paid placement, they are straightforward Amazon search results for your search.

Shuttleworth maintains that users who are seeing unwanted shopping suggestions "didn’t narrow the scope" enough. He points out that a user could narrow the search by using a hotkey to specify the specific scope they want, "like Super-A for apps, or Super-F for files". ®

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