Richard Stallman, creator of the GNU Project and author of several pivotal free software licenses (GPL, etc), yesterday published an article on the Free Software Foundation website exploring the fact that Ubuntu is adding really obnoxious spyware which sends your local file searches to advertisers, et al. For background, I covered this in my GNOME (et al): Rotting In Threes: Ubuntu Spyware article section, and the EFF published Privacy in Ubuntu 12.10: Amazon Ads and Data Leaks.
One of the major advantages of free software is that the community protects users from malicious software. Now Ubuntu GNU/Linux has become a counterexample. What should we do?
Most free software developers would abandon such a plan given the prospect of a mass switch to someone else’s corrected version. But Canonical has not abandoned the Ubuntu spyware. Perhaps Canonical figures that the name “Ubuntu” has so much momentum and influence that it can avoid the usual consequences and get away with surveillance.
See his full article for details and how you can impact their decisions.
This is not exactly a new behavioral trend for Canonical, merely the latest growth. Several years ago when I dumped Ubuntu they were starting to modify Firefox in their repos so that the online search box redirected to their servers. Their escalation into sharing local search data is a gross betrayal of their users. I think anyone who supports Linux should seriously question why they’re using Ubuntu at this point. In free software, we don’t vote much with our dollars, but we do vote by using and giving attention to software and distros. Nothing says ‘I do not support this’ like users moving en masse away from their offerings. Addiction to any one distro or software solution allows these corporations to keep moving Linux in anti-user directions.
Kudos to a community leader such as Richard Stallman for taking a firm stance against these practices. Much of the valuable qualities we find today in Linux are there because of his work and the work of similar activists, as well as Linux users who stay aware of and involved in these issues. Also see Richard’s personal activist site where he gives excellent reasons for Don’t do business with Amazon, Don’t use Skype, and Don’t do business with Apple, among important others.
What this comes down to: Do you want Linux to survive and grow as a viable alternative to closed, user-limiting systems?
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