Ubuntu users and privacy advocates have won a big victory as Canonical’s Michael Hall announced yesterday that future versions of Unity will give users the option to opt-in to searches using online sources. Back in September 2012, I had reached out to both the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Free Software Foundation (FSF) and blogged about the new feature landing in Ubuntu 12.10 that would breach user privacy and leak desktop queries.
The EFF and FSF both responded by outlining why this new feature was a breach of user privacy and called on Canonical to fix the feature. For two releases, Canonical maintained that the online search feature was something users liked (apparently having done user studies) and that it respected user privacy.
Yesterday’s announcement clearly indicates that the feature was not something that users valued and that the feature did indeed raise privacy concerns. Later in 2013, Canonical went as far as to abuse Trademark Law by sending an employee of the Electronic Frontier Foundation a frivolous legal notice which had no validity.
For what its worth, this change in the Unity Desktop will address the issues that users, developers, and advocates have raised over the last two years and puts Ubuntu back in parity with other Linux Distros in terms of privacy.