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Privacy group damns Ubuntu's Amazon search marriage

Unhelpful when you're searching your pr0n library

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Privacy activists have taken Canonical to task for exposing users' web searches and searches of their local hard drives to sites such as Amazon, Facebook and the BBC.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has called Canonical's integration of the Ubuntu 12.10 Dash search feature with results from Amazon "a major privacy problem".

The integration comes courtesy of the Unity Dash search feature, introduced with Ubuntu 12.10 earlier in October. It caused a storm among users but was defended by Ubuntu daddy Mark Shuttleworth, although Canonical subsequently released a kill switch.

EEF highlighted a number of situations where you could be searching your Ubuntu PC's hard drive and wouldn't want results beamed out to the Canonical server that then sucks back in Amazon matches.

These include searching for the latest version of your résumé at work, looking for a domestic abuse hotline PDF, divorce documents, looking for documents with file names that will gave away trade secrets or activism plans ... or even tracking down that one piece of porn you just can't seem get your hands on.

"There are many reasons why you wouldn't want any of these search queries to leave your computer," the group said.

The EEF has posted tips on uninstalling the Dash-Amazon feature and advised people on moving to Gnome 3, KDE or Cinnamon.

The group also upbraided Canonical for not clearly disclosing to Ubuntu users who it is sharing their data with.

Dash 12.10 features a new, and not immediately obvious, legal notice that says that by using Dash, you automatically agree to send your search terms and IP address to third parties "including" Facebook, Twitter, BBC and Amazon.

"Canonical is not clear about which third parties it sends data to and when, but it appears that many of these third parties only get searched in certain circumstances," EEF wrote.

EEF listed four points of action for Canonical: disable the inclusion of online searches by default; explain in detail what happens to search queries and IP addresses; let users toggle on and off between specific online search results; and "respect users' privacy and security".

EEF said it loved that Ubuntu is "bold enough to break new ground and compete directly with the large proprietary operating systems" but that Canonical should not follow moves by software companies to share users' data without the users' express consent to "maximise profits for their shareholders". ®

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