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Ubuntu’s Amazon Shopping Feature Wins Anti-Privacy Award

The BBA Statue

The Big Brother Award Statuette

Ubuntu is no stranger to awards and accolades, but the latest trophy to be gifted to the open-source project is one that is unlikely to go on display.

Canonical’s decision to add Amazon product suggestions to the Unity desktop has seen the company presented with a ‘Big Brother Award‘ in Austria.

The controversial feature – which uses local search terms to fetch ‘relevant’ product results from the web – was announced as a winner of the un-coveted prize at a ceremony in the Austrian capital, Vienna, on Friday, October 25th.

The Big Brother Awards – held annually since 1999 – hands out gongs to governments, companies, persons and projects deemed to “have done the most to invade personal privacy”. This can take the form of misusing, violating, or disclosing personal data to third parties.

Awards are handed out to projects that ‘invade personal privacy’.

The award marks the latest public admonishment of the shopping lens.

Since its introduction in 2012, several data-privacy organisations, including Privacy International and the Electronic Frontier Foundation, have criticised the feature and its implementation.

Meanwhile, GNU/Linux figure-head Richard Stallman continues to be vocal in his disdain, routinely referring to it as “spyware”.

‘Attempts to Anonymise Data’

‘Canonical has sought to address many of the concerns raised…’

Canonical has sought to address many of the concerns raised by groups like the EFF.

Recent releases of Ubuntu have shipped with improved privacy controls and made off-switches for online features more accessible to users. Efforts have also been made to anonymise user search data transmitted from the Dash to Canonical’s servers.

Despite the changes some remain convinced that the feature continues to compromise privacy.

Other Nominees & Winners

As unwelcome as the award may be, Canonical aren’t the only ones being put under the spotlight.

The “Amazon Suggestions” feature of the Unity desktop, nominated in the ‘Marketing and Communications’ category, saw off competition from Erste Bank, whose NFC ‘contactless payment’ cards drew ire; and purported phishing e-mails related to online company Paylife.

‘Microsoft’s Xbox One and the NSA also scooped awards’

Microsoft’s Xbox One and the NSA also scooped awards in separate categories, with the latter also picking up a People’s Choice Award and a ‘Lifetime Nuisance’ accolade for being privacy infringers.

The Big Brother Awards are not unique to Austria, having been started in the UK back in 1998. Other countries hold similar events – including Germany, France and the Czech Republic – as an attempt to raise public awareness of data privacy and civil liberty issues.

The founder of the awards, Simon Davies, went on to create Privacy International – one of the world’s leading privacy-rights charities.

Watch The Event

The full awards ceremony is available to watch on YouTube (audio is German). Ubuntu is the first “award winner” of the night, announced around the 10 minute mark.

Jan Wildeboer, via Benjamin Kerensa