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Ubuntu ‘Won’t Fix’ NSFW Content in Amazon Unity Results

An unfortunate “side effect” of Ubuntu’s new ‘shopping suggestions’ feature is that, regardless of what you’re looking for, be it local or online, you’re going to be met with a barrage of results.

By using a scattergun approach the theory is (one assumes) that you’ll see something you might want to buy or look at, thus making Canonical a few pennies.

But these suggestions cannot be tailored to your interests, they lack filters, settings, or any other form of personalisation options. This makes Amazon results less ‘immediately useful’ than they could, or should, be.

Instead a mish-mash of  books, media, home-ware, software, beauty products, pet supplies are presented, all hoping that, by chance, they match what you’re after.

It’s this filterless ‘show whatever from where-ever’ approach that has raised the eyebrows of some early testers

NFSW Content

NSFW (Not Safe for Work) refers to content that could be viewed unfavourably. Despite the acronym this doesn’t only apply to those in a work setting. NSFW applies just as readily to school or college computer rooms, the family sofa or your kitchen table.

In Ubuntu’s various lenses – this issue is not solely confined to shopping results but is most prominent with it because its results are in the ‘Home Lens’ – it’s possible to accidentally bring up content that could, depending on your suitabilities, be considered ‘NSFW’.

The issue (if you can call it that) is largely because of the way the lens works. Rather than waiting for you to enter a whole phrase it queries Amazon for every letter each letter as you type it. As you enter ‘s‘ for ‘sound preferences’ you’ll get a stack of results returned for ‘s’. The same happens when you add the ‘o‘ to make ‘so’, and so on.

As such you don’t have to type in something explicit like ‘lesbian romp’ to bring up NSFW imagery – you can do it accidentally!

For example, as you begin to enter ‘analyser’ in the Dash search (so as to find the Disk Usage Analyser) so several images/products will appear that some might find uncomfortable appear (chiefly books with bum-laden covers on bum-related topics).

If you’re used to typing the whole word then these glimpses will be fleeting, if at all. But if you’re accustomed to using the Dash in conjunction with just a few letters, the potential to call up a raft of adult-themed products by accident rises.

No pun intended.

Whose Duty to Filter?

Now, is this Ubuntu’s fault? No, of course not.

As unfortunate as the first few letters in ‘analyser'; ‘titanic'; and ‘cocktail’ are they are legitimate words in their own right, and as the lens searches for them it will find results related to them.

Things become a little less clear-cut when adult results appear for words that are generally considered innocent: –

Such results are going to be few and far between. I discovered the above example by total fluke.

But some of those who are irked by this ‘issue’ are suggesting that Ubuntu/Canonical filter out legitimate, albeit unsavoury, product results from the Dash.

Is that really fair?

I don’t think so. It’s up to users to decide what shows on their desktop and what doesn’t. The Shopping Lens feature is removable (and to be optional), putting the decision in the hands of users themselves.

But I do see the point of those who want to use the feature but don’t fancy the potential red-faced embarrassment should an item from ‘erotic fiction’ or similar categories appear. Their solution is less clear cut.

‘Impossible to Filter’

Whatever the arguments, and however questionable the results sourced, Canonical have no plans to implement a filter based on search terms of product categories.

Canonical’s John Lenton argues that ‘filtering this kind of content’ would be ‘essentially impossible’. Coupled with the fact the lens can be disabled, Lenton marked  a bug report on the issue as “Won’t Fix”.

So if you’re concerned by any inadvertent slip-ups your best bet for now is to type quickly and cover your eyes when searching lest you see something you don’t want to.

Have you seen any strange search results whilst searching for something tame? If so, let us know in the comments.