Fedora Project mulls 'privacy preserving' usage telemetry

Presumably Red Hat feels it hasn't alienated enough people recently

The Fedora Project is considering a proposal to introduce some limited usage telemetry in a future release. Predictably, quite a few users are not delighted with this development.

The suggested "privacy preserving" change would introduce some very limited telemetry into Fedora 40 next year, and as far as we can tell, this would only apply to the default GNOME desktop edition. The accompanying discussion is, as you might expect, already quite spirited.

The proposal actually seems fairly modest. It would be fully anonymized, not collect any personally identifiable information, not collect search queries, and so on. Last time we looked, the project hadn't got as far as defining exactly which stats would be collected.

The proposal comes out from the Red Hat Display Systems Team, the part of the organization that maintains the desktop operating system. In case the name isn't familiar, these are the folks who recently decided to stop maintaining the distro's LibreOffice packages.

They propose to use the usage metrics gathering and processing tools developed for the Endless OS distro; we looked at Endless OS version 5 at the start of the year. One of the Endless project's developers gives some details about its info-gathering tools, collectively known as Azafea, in a blog post. Additionally, the Fedora change proposal clearly specifies:

We do not plan to deploy the eos-phone-home component.

The eos-phone-home tool, amusingly, is a variant of an Ubuntu tool from some years back called canonical-poke, as described in this old blog post, and discussed on Stack Overflow soon afterwards. The point here is not that any of this derives from Ubuntu efforts or anything of the kind; the point is that things like this are nothing new.

Back in 2010, the GNOME project conducted a survey, and Ubuntu got caught up in the ensuing controversy. Even Debian has Popcon, its software-package popularity contest. Previous related Fedora efforts, mentioned in the proposal, were the Smolt tool and DNF Better Counting.

No development team can do everything that it would like to do. Even volunteer-driven community projects have to find some ways to prioritize their efforts: to work out which parts of their systems are being used the most, and which the least. The Fedora proposal is open about the kind of information that the team is looking for:

One of the main goals of metrics collection is to analyze whether Red Hat is achieving its goal to make Fedora Workstation the premier developer platform for cloud software development. Accordingly, we want to know things like which IDEs are most popular among our users, and which runtimes are used to create containers using Toolbx.

The proposal specifically addresses the vexed issue of opt-in versus opt-out, as well as the separation of data collection and data upload, and other telemetry related FAQs – something which appears to have been missed by many of the people commenting upon this online in various forums. Perhaps the key point is that it will be on by default, because as the proposal says, the developers feel that they must:

… ensure the system is opt-out, not opt-in. This is essential because we know that opt-in metrics are not very useful. Few users would opt in, and these users would not be representative of Fedora users as a whole. We are not interested in opt-in metrics.

The Reg FOSS Desk suspects that many of the reactions are essentially knee-jerk ones, and that many of the people who are already objecting have not read the proposal in detail. 'Twas ever thus with internet bun fights.

Every distro has attempted things like this before. It's really no biggie, however vocal some of the complaints. The Mozilla Firefox market share is now down to about 3 percent, and yet we are willing to bet that many of you will be reading this article in some variant of Google Chrome —- despite Google's well known data-collection habits.

Android does a great deal of phoning home, which is why Murena /e/ OS exists, and yet billions of people use Android devices. Unpopular as it was, we still think Scott McNealy was right in 1999: "You have zero privacy anyway - get over it." ®

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