Richard Stallman calls Ubuntu spyware

A long time ago Richard Stallman does not agree with anything that is done with Ubuntu. And now, the reason for their complaints is something that a good part of Ubuntu users has made them raise their voices: the integration of Amazon in the Dash

Stallman accuses

Stallman writes:

Ubuntu, a widely used and influential GNU / Linux distribution, has installed a watchdog code. When the user searches their local files by entering a string on the Ubuntu desktop, Ubuntu sends that string to one of Canonical's servers. (Canonical is the company that develops Ubuntu).

And compare this to Windows 'surveillance':

This is the same as the first surveillance practice, which we could see in Windows. My late friend Fravia told me that when he looked for a string in his system files in Windows, it would send a packet to another server, which was detected by the firewall. With this in mind, you learned about the propensity of proprietary software to turn into malware. It is perhaps no coincidence that Ubuntu does the same.

The community too

Stallman is not alone in this battle.

Since its implementation, there has been a massive protest by the Ubuntu community about it, as well as reports of bugs, both serious ("Do not include remote searches in the Ubuntu lens", "Data leak to Amazon") and others jokingly ("grep-R does not automatically search Amazon", "Incomplete spyware coverage - limited to Dash"). Mark Shuttleworth, founder of Ubuntu, defended the decision to include ads in Amazon Dash:

We do not inform Amazon what you are looking for. Your anonymity is preserved because we handle the inquiry on your behalf. Don't trust us? You already entrust your data to us. It does this so that we don't screw up your machine with every update. You trust Debian, and you trust the open source community. And most importantly, you trust us to deal with mistakes when, being human, we are wrong.

According to Electronic Frontier FoundationWhen searching for something in Dash, the computer establishes a secure HTTPS connection with productsearch.ubuntu.com, sending the entered query and its IP address. If you return Amazon products to display, the product images obtained from the Amazon server via HTTP will be loaded insecurely. This means that an intruder, such as someone who shares a wireless network with you, will be able to get a good idea of ​​what you are looking for on your own computer from Amazon product images.

It's not just that image uploads are insecure. The fact that images are uploaded directly from Amazon's servers rather than from Canonical media means that Amazon has the ability to map search queries to IP addresses.

Opt-in or opt-out

Including business results in Dash is not a bad concept and no one - not the Electronic Frontier Foundation or Stallman is against it - but they are opposed to the way it has been applied. Instead of being an optional function that must be activated (opt-in), it is activated by default and it is the user who must deactivate it (opt-out). Added to this is the concern that our data is being sent to Canonical and Amazon servers without our knowledge.

This is what Stallman is saying:

To protect the privacy of users, systems must make prudence easy: when a local search program has an online search function, it should only be done when the user explicitly chooses it each time. This is easy: all you need is to have separate buttons for online searches and local searches, even some older versions of Ubuntu implemented it. An online search function must also clearly and specifically inform the user about who will receive their personal information, as long as the function is used.

After much criticism from community members, Canonical decided to include a feature to disable online search. But how many users found out? Does everyone know how to disable this option? During the installation process, it does not ask us if we want it activated (as it does with proprietary codecs and other issues).

Ubuntu is spyware

Stallman even suggests that we stop using Ubuntu:

If you ever recommended or redistributed GNU / Linux, please remove Ubuntu from the distros you recommend or redistribute. If your installation practice and recommendation of proprietary software didn't convince you, this might convince you. At installation festivals, Software Freedom Day events, and FLISOLs, do not install or recommend Ubuntu. Instead, tell people that Ubuntu is rejected for spying.

Jono Bacon, Canonical's Leading Community Manager, responded in friendly but firm terms to Stallman's accusations. From my humble point of view, your answer is limited to two arguments:

a) We are human, we can make mistakes. Also, precisely because we are part of the free software movement, we listen and learn from what the community says.

b) Richard Stallman is a fanatic. I do not agree with everything that the Free Software Foundation (to which he belongs) does or says and I do not encourage people not to make donations, visit their page or even deny how indispensable their work has been for the growth of free software.

None of this really goes to the point that Stallman, the Electronic Frontier Foundation or even the community at large are claiming.

Let me step away from the main topic of this article briefly. In particular, I would like to focus on the second argument, because it is very common in this and other debates in which Richard Stallman leaves his opinion. In general, Stallman's words may sound harsh, but at the same time they are a necessary pill to swallow.

For a long time he has recommended not using Ubuntu, not because he considers it a spyware (this argument is new, due to the implementation of Dash in the latest versions of Ubuntu), but because it distributes proprietary software (which will be further aggravated with the advent of Steam for Linux).

Many may consider him crazy because it is much more comfortable to say nothing and it is much more comfortable to use the software without thinking about whether it is free or proprietary. However, Richard Stallman not only helped develop many of the tools we use today (including the compiler with which the Linux kernel is developed), he not only wrote the software license that covers much of free software (the GPL) , but it is always there to prod us, annoy us, and make us think about the only thing that really matters: our freedom (in this case, as users and / or software developers).

I don't think it's bad that there is a Richard Stallman to remind us of what our horizon should be to reach, because even if we never reach it, it must always be our goal. If we lose that horizon, we will no longer build thinking about it, we will not tend towards it, but "everything would be the same". Which is why I "bank" Stallman. That's why I bench Stallman, with his impudence, his bombastic words and even offensive words. It takes someone who does not get lost in the gray and sometimes thinks (like a good "radical, fanatic, etc.") in absolute terms and puts things in white on black.

The difference between free and proprietary software is not only the possibility or not of accessing the source code, as the defenders of "open source" want to believe, our freedom is at stake (at least part of it, such as users and / or software developers).

What does Ubuntu hold for us in the future: more spyware?

According to Jono Bacon:

The goal of the Ubuntu interface has always been to provide a central location from which to search and find things that are interesting and relevant to the user. It is designed to be the center of the user experience. This is a great goal, and we are only halfway there.

We already know that with the next installment of Ubuntu (13.04) the search results will go even further than what has been shown so far, something that will surely raise hives among the most purists of free software.

At the same time, we can look forward to the inclusion of more proprietary software with the arrival of Steam (which we all celebrate but must be watched carefully).

The table is set. And you, what do you think?


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  1.   David Gonzalez said

    Umm both stallman and the others should not know that for amazon there are two solutions

    1- You deactivate the searches from the privacy system configuration and the first tab allows you to deactivate that option (Ubuntu 13.04)
    2- Uninstall the Amazon lens (Google is your faithful friend, look for you to find it)
    regards
    P.S. I am delighted with Ubuntu at least it is much freer than Apple or Microsoft

  2.   Sebastian Alejandro Oses Cofré said

    Although I am a user of Ubuntu version 12.04, I support Stallman on the subject of sending data from a PC (because it can be used for many things: commercial or malicious, who knows!).

    Regarding the issue of drivers: we know that, unfortunately, our beloved Linux kernel is not developed enough to give us the best experience on our machine (taking into account the hardware). And if hardware developers have no intention of delivering the source code for their drivers, the least they MUST do is be able to support these bits of metal and circuits, so that we can use them with systems that want to be different by be free.

  3.   daas88 said

    I think the same thing that is said, that it should be something optional that one can activate, not that you have to deactivate for your privacy.
    I suppose that Stallman does not have as much against derivatives as kubuntu and lubuntu, since they do not include the unity dash (although drivers and proprietary software are available)