October 18, 2012, 2:19 PM — In releasing updates to its client and server Ubuntu Linux distributions today, Canonical will enable users to turn off a search option in its client product that has raised some eyebrows over privacy issues. A whistleblower, however, remains unimpressed with Canonical's handling of the situation.
The company will release Ubuntu 12.10, following a beta period that saw some privacy protests over the incorporation of Amazon.com searches in Ubuntu's Unity Dash search interface. The intent was to give searchers a view of Amazon's shopping catalog, but query terms were sent to Amazon unencrypted. Steve George, Canonical's vice president of communications and products, said the company has responded by enabling the capability to be turned off, individually, on each desktop. Canonical also worked with Amazon to strip out information identifying a user.
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Etienne Perot, a software engineering student at McGill University who has protested Canonical's intentions, remains unconvinced, although he acknowledges some improvement. In a detailed response, Perot cites outstanding issues, such as with privacy in searches, contending search terms from Amazon are still not made anonymous. "This has not been fixed, but it has been acknowledged as a flaw on the Canonical blog," Perot said.
But Canonical did take steps to make search data anonymous on its own end, he said. "It's not a perfect solution, but it is pretty close to the ideal one. Real anonymizing solutions (routing through Tor etc.) would make the search way too slow to be practical, so I can understand the decision here -- which doesn't mean that I agree with it."