When Richard Stallman Called Linux Ubuntu a Spyware

Richard Stallman: Ubuntu is a spyware

Linux Ubuntu is one of the most popular GNU/Linux distributions. It is used in over 50 million desktop computers worldwide, and runs millions of servers, including those of Reddit, Instagram, Snapchat and Netflix. It is even used to control the BYU Mars rover.

The first release of Linux Ubuntu was in 2004 by an open source software company named Canonical. Both the company and the distribution are committed to the open source paradigm and the GPL licenses. However, one particular feature had made the distribution subject to a severe denunciation from Richard Stallman, the most iconic figure of the open source community.

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In fact, Linux Ubuntu has a desktop search feature that sends the search terms to Canonical’s servers. “This already is a spyware” says Mr. Stallman. He explains in the herein video that this spyware is linked to an advertisement scheme involving Canonical and Amazon.

The video below is from 2013. Since then, Canonical has been hesitating to remove the feature. Rumors about its disabling were spread before each new release. However, the developers seem to be more comfortable with a different opinion. This latter considers the feature as a user-experience enhancement, rather than a malicious spyware. After all, no user identification is shared with the advertisers.

Richard Stallman’s answers that Amazon can identify the search terms via the categories of the ads that had been oriented through Canonical to the user’s desktop.

One Comment:

  1. Whether it helps users or not, this method has been used by a commercial company that offers software (granted written by other people) configured and packaged for user convenience, for free at great expense. This company has to have some way of recouping the money and maintain viability in a competitive world where anybody else can take its packaged software and rebrand them, benefiting without spending any money; many do), If this simple measure (which can be switched off by the user) benefits them I would say this is a small price to pay for the great work they have done in bringing Linux (ok, ok, GNU/Linux) to mainstream usage.

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