President of the Free Software Foundation Accuses Ubuntu of being “Spyware”

Richard Stallman

Richard Stallman accuses Canonical of spying on Ubuntu users.

Canonical, the company behind the wildly popular Ubuntu distro is under siege from Free Software Foundation president Richard Stallman. Stallman has accused Canonical of spying on users, and oddly enough, they aren’t even denying it. In fact, they even admit plans are in the works to expand their efforts in upcoming releases.

The complaint Stallman has highlighted in particular is a controversial new feature introduced in Ubuntu 12.10 that combines a user’s local desktop search, with results from Amazon.

“When the user searches her own local files for a string using the Ubuntu desktop, Ubuntu sends that string to one of Canonical’s servers. … Ubuntu uses the information about searches to show the user ads to buy various things from Amazon.” 

If a user goes through and makes a purchase, Amazon provides Canonical with a cut in the form of an affiliate fee. Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth has defended the decision on his blog, but is facing mounting criticism from users who are used to getting a free OS with no strings attached.

It’s a simple matter to disable the feature, but Stallman doesn’t think users should accept this as the solution.

“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.”

Amit Teli