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EFF: ‘Ubuntu Shopping Lens A Major Privacy Problem’

The Electronic Frontier Foundation have published a critique of Ubuntu 12.10’s ‘Shopping Lens’.

In a post on their blog, titled ‘Ubuntu 12.10: Amazon Ads and Data leaks’, the respected non-profit group describe the online suggestions that appear in the Dash as ‘Amazon-affiliated advertisements for products’, adding that the feature presents users with a ‘major privacy problem’.

‘Passive Eavesdropper’

The EFF claim that when although initial searches sent to Amazon are secure the product images returned are not. These, the EFF argue, are loaded ‘insecurely, potentially allowing ‘a passive eavesdropper …sharing a wireless network with you’ to get the gist of what you’re search for on your computer.

“It’s a major privacy problem if you can’t find things on your own computer without broadcasting what you’re looking for to the world.”

As well as probing product results, the 22-year old group also worry that ‘Canonical is not [being] clear about which third parties it sends data to and when’, with regards to the company’s Third Party Privacy Policy.

Still Rumbling

Like a Tolkien-ian saga, the ‘Shopping Lens’  story is one that just keeps on giving. User criticism has lead to first the implementation of an ‘off switch’; a restriction on adult results was then added; and, more recently, a visible link to Canonical’s Privacy Policy was positioned in the Dash itself.

Neither are the EFF alone in criticising the feature. Last month Privacy International called the feature ‘fundamentally problematic’ and described its implementation as ‘flawed’. 

“Demands”

But rather than solely fan the flames of a controversial issue the EFF have also made a small list of  ‘demands’ future version of Ubuntu should adhere to so as to off-set their concerns.

These are:

  • Disable ‘Online Search Results’ by default
  • Transparency on what/how data (IP, search terms) are kept and used
  • Add per-lens toggles for greater user-control 

The latter of these demands is, in fact, already in progress. Per-lens switching of online/offline content is scheduled for inclusion 13.04.

Read More

The EFF wading in to the Shopping Lens issue is significant. As one the leading campaign groups for the preservation and protection of digital rights in the world, they command respect.

But many of the EFF’s concerns are already in the process of being addressed.

Canonical, in a statement to us last month, reiterated that they ‘respect users and respect their privacy’, adding that they take their legal requirements and community responsibility ‘very seriously’.

Whether the combination of Canonical’s respect for user privacy paired with the concern of an international group such as the EFF will ‘speed up’ plans to resolve issues will be seen in due course.

Hit the button below to read the full blog post by the EFF on this issue.

EFF Article on Ubuntu’s Shopping Lens