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Ubuntu's Unity 8 desktop removes the Amazon search 'spyware'

Chris Hoffman | Oct. 30, 2014
Your searches will no longer turn up Amazon results by default.

Unity 8's redesign fixes this problem
Ubuntu's Unity 8 desktop and associated software is where all Ubuntu's development focus seems to be--that's why Ubuntu 14.10 seems so familiar. This desktop environment is featured in the Ubuntu Desktop Next images; it's also the same as the Unity 8 shell seen on Ubuntu smartphones. Unity 8 is where Ubuntu will reach their dream of convergence. (Right after they get all the references to smartphones out of the desktop interface, anyway.)

Unity 8's dash, or search feature, has been redesigned to be more configurable, with scopes becoming more plug-in-like. When you perform a search in Unity 8's Dash, it searches only locally. The "scopes" that search online sources, like Amazon or the Ubuntu Software Center, are still available, with additional scopes available via a Scopes Store. However, when you search you have to specifically enable a scope like the Amazon one to search online.

This means your searches won't be sent to Amazon --or over the web--unless you click or tap the Amazon search option. As you now have to choose to search an online source, it's unclear if the feature that sends your queries through Canonical's servers to preserve your privacy will be maintained.

Will Cooke, the Desktop Team Manager at Canonical, recently outlined Canonical's schedule for getting Unity 8 out in a blog post. It could potentially be the default in Ubuntu 15.10, and should definitely be the default in Ubuntu 16.04 LTS.

This doesn't feel like a victory
So the privacy crusaders have finally won over Ubuntu! Or have we? While the problem is solved, this somehow doesn't feel like a victory. If Unity 8 makes it into Ubuntu 16.04, the problem will have existed for four years before being (inadvertently?) solved by a rewrite and design change of the desktop environment.

It's definitely an improvement, but not because Canonical necessarily listened to the outcry. It's a shame; now mainstream operating systems like Windows 8.1 and Mac OS X Yosemite all send your local searches over the web by default. Ubuntu could be planting a flag and saying "we don't do that--we're serious about privacy." Instead, all they can say is "We did that first--but we're not going to do that anymore."


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