Happy International Privacy Day!

Privacy in the Digital Age
Who sees what you search for?

Privacy is an important issue that every user should strive to protect and while privacy means many different things to different people, the fact is that privacy is about real choices being given to a user in regards to how their information (searches, personal information etc) is shared and handled.

I would like to highlight two important things I believe I have contributed to in regards to privacy. Those being advocating for Firefox to remain the default web browser on Ubuntu and also alerting the FSF and EFF about privacy issues in the new Unity Lenses & Scopes. Both organizations were unaware of the new feature but agreed with the privacy concerns I had and helped campaign for changes.

Sadly, in the case of the Unity Lenses & Scopes the privacy issues remain because users are not being given choice or control as a default but instead the decision is made for them by default. I still hope that Canonical (which last year won a Anti-Privacy Award for this privacy fail) will make the right decision for its users.

I think it is important for contributors and users in any open source project to always stand up for values like privacy. I hope more will do this whenever the occasion presents itself in any open source project. Privacy and User Choice are pillars of the open source culture and we should always strive to do our best in respecting both.

Be sure to find and share excellent posts on privacy and share them on Social Media today using hashtag #PrivacyDay



  1. John Nelson says

    Two questions:

    1. Have you been advocating for Mozilla to stop using Google for the default homepage of Firefox because of the privacy concerns?
    2. I’m unsure of what you mean when you write “users are not being given choice or control as a default…” considering the fact that the ability to turn off on-line searches has been made both accessible (by putting it in the settings panel) and explicit (by putting a reference to the setting in the Dash when it’s first used). It may be claimed that the default setting potentially encroaches upon the user’s privacy, but I don’t understand how it can be asserted that the user lacks choice or control. Could you elaborate?

    • says

      1. No, because it is evident on the homepage that if you enter a keyword you are opting in to use Google Search. The fact of the matter is when you use the internet you are opening yourself to sharing searches with someone whether it is Google, Yahoo, Bing or even DuckDuckGo.

      2. I mean exactly what I said that being that users should be given the choice to opt-in to such data sharing especially in a place where such searches being sent over the internet is not an expected behavior and without any notice of the new feature in the installer. Also people who upgrade were not presented with the notice you call explicit even so the notice you point out has been suggested by plenty as not being explicit and easily overlook and suggestions for better notice have been offered but fallen on deaf ears.

      Another good example is Mozilla in its Data Choices tab under preferences offers users the ability to opt-in and share anonymized usage data with Mozilla but they do not make that decision for users because that would be a privacy fail. Notably, Mozilla was named the most privacy focused organization in the world and has a full time staff member focusing on protecting user privacy (not many companies do)

      • Ian Nicholson says

        Isn’t it equally evident when you type into a field labelled “Search your computer and online sources” that you may in fact be opting in to use an online source?

        • says

          What is the online source though? It doesn’t tell you that your search ultimately goes to a dozen different sites and last but not least how long is that data stored and how is it handled? I have personally seen flip flop on that matter alone that being how its handled. At one point Canonical said IP’s and Queries were not stored then they backtracked and said it was stored by only certain people could see it.

          A web browser is intended for searching and browsing the web. A desktop search tool is not necessarily.

          • Michael Hall says

            I thought we had cleared this up. The query is stored by the Smart Scope Service without the IP address. The IP address is stored in HTTP server access logs without the query.

          • Ian Nicholson says

            “A web browser is intended for searching and browsing the web. A desktop search tool is not necessarily.”
            Which is why it’s labeled “Search your computer and online sources”. It seems pretty straight forward to me.

      • Ian Nicholson says

        Posting a second time since my first post is apparently held up for moderation:
        You’re basically saying “Oh *this* text box is ok to type internet stuff into, but *that* text box isn’t ok to type internet stuff into.” Even though the second box is labelled just as clearly as the first box.

  2. says

    We could improve privacy by simply having the President issue an executive order to the NSA requiring them to disclose all known vulnerabilities to hardware and software vendors for them to fix.