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Amazon 'adware' laden Ubuntu passes ICO's data smell test

Linux love for Bezos' goods is not illegal, says UK watchdog

Internet Security Threat Report 2014

The Amazon "shopping suggestions" feature built into Ubuntu desktops does not violate consumer protections under European and UK privacy law.

That’s according to the Information Commissioner following a complaint lodged by a Ubuntu blogger over Ubuntu’s controversial Shopping Lens.

Introduced in Ubuntu 12.10, the Amazon Lens combined results from users’ desktop search with supposedly relevant product search results from Amazon.

The Lens debuted in the 12.10 beta in late 2012 and ignited a immediate firestorm of protest.

Two years later, the ICO has now said it’s satisfied that Canonical, chief steward of Ubuntu, has “reasonably ensured compliance” with the Data Protection Act.

In other words, it’s happy users’ data and privacy are protected.

Further, built-in Lens notifications for users built into the Ubuntu desktop means Canonical “reasonably ensured compliance” with the DPA.

Also, according to the ICO, Canonical has given users “suitable information” to help people in turning off or disabling the feature.

“As a result, we do not consider that any further action is required by the ICO at the moment,” the ICO said in a letter published on blogger Luis de Sousa’s site.

Contacted by The Reg, the ICO confirmed the letter is genuine.

The UK’s data watchdog was responding to complaints from blogger De Sousa, who contacted the ICO.

De Sousa had campaigned against the Amazon Shopping Lens feature for some time, going as far to launch an online petition against it.

At the time, the Lens feature debuted, in 2012, Ubuntu diehards revolted and threatened to dump their favorite Linux for Mint, a rival distro modelled closely on that of Mark Shuttleworth.

Concern centred on the collection of users’ data and exposure to a third party – Amazon.

The issue went right to the top of the Ubuntu tree, with Ubuntu daddy Mark Shuttleworth trying to quell concerns. He said users' anonymity was protected bcause Canonical’s own servers conducted the searches and stood between users’ desktops and the mighty server farms and product-slinging systems of Jeff Bezos’ Amazon.

He also denied Canonical would be selling ads or product placements.

Such was the revolt, though, that Canonical’s engineers introduced a button allowing users to kill the adware feature before the final release of Ubuntu 12.10.

Closing the blog post, and the shopping matter, De Souza wrote: "I rest my case. I am still happy to use Ubuntu (with the Shopping Lens switched off)." ®

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