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Canonical bungs kill switch onto Ubuntu's Amazon 'adware'

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Canonical is reining in its Ubuntu Linux distro's new Amazon "adware" desktop search feature after penguinistas vented their rage.

Ubuntu community manager Jono Bacon has explained in a blog post how users can disable the controversial system that, by default, sends desktop search queries unencrypted to Amazon via Canonical's servers so that links to products related to the queries can be shown in the results.

The catch is, the fix won’t just stop you from receiving results from Amazon: it will eliminate all online results from the search.

“There is work going on to have a toggle switch in the settings to disable it. Note that this will affect all online searches (e.g. Gwibber),” Bacon sniffed.

As commentators on Bacon’s blog noted, though, it’s not clear whether the ability to stop Dash searches pulling in Amazon results was a response to the backlash. Canonical will formally introduce the new Dash search feature in Ubuntu 12.10, due out next month.

Certainly, when Ubuntu daddy Mark Shuttleworth tried to calm users’ concerns over privacy earlier this week, he made no mention of being able to "turn Amazon off".

Shuttleworth instead suggested narrowing the scope of searches using a hotkey to specify the specific scope, "like Super-A for apps, or Super-F for files".

Ubuntu features a universal search feature called the Home lens. The new feature in 12.10 means that when a user conducts a search, Home lens will not just return results from the local drive but also links considered relevant from the Amazon uber-warehouse in the sky.

Canonical will get a share of revenue from purchases made, and has strongly defended the deal, saying it would help fund the Ubuntu project.

Shuttleworth tried to calm Ubuntu users' fears over the feature at the weekend, writing: “We are not telling Amazon what you are searching for. Your anonymity is preserved because we handle the query on your behalf.”

He also denied that Ubuntu would be selling ads or product placements.

It’s the latest wrinkle in Canonical’s relationship with the open-source community. In past years, Shuttleworth has pressed for release-schedule co-ordination between open-source projects to improve feature development and delivery.

A decision by those in charge of Debian, the basis for Ubuntu, to freeze release cycles every two years to assist Ubuntu releases produced such a backlash that project leaders reversed their decision within 24 hours.

One commenter responding to Bacon on the latest issue, and with the moniker veryannoyed, reckoned the Amazon Lens issue had "seriously compromised the integrity of Canonical as a steward of Ubuntu".

“Canonical is beginning to see that many, many Linux users care about their control over their own private information. Money making schemes that compromise this are not worth it,” veryannoyed wrote. ®

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