privacy in Ubuntu
Ubuntu wants to know more how people use it

It’s valentines day and Ubuntu has decided it wants to get to know you a little bit better.

Or more specifically, your system.

Yup; you’re forever the bridesmaid, I know.

Canonical chose today, the international day of romance and overpriced heart-shaped key-rings, to tell the Ubuntu community of its plans to include a data collection tool in the Ubuntu 18.04 installer.

This feature will compile a stack of salient information about system hardware and then send it back to Canonical.

‘If I’m honest: I’m surprised Ubuntu doesn’t collect this sort of data already’

But before anyone freaks out, reaches for the rotten fruit, or digs out a pun-addled placard last waved in Canonical’s direction circa 2013 —deep breath— I have to be honest:

This sounds like a good thing.

Help Improve Ubuntu …By Doing Nothing

Canonical’s desktop team lead Will Cooke explains more about the initiative in an email to the Ubuntu development mailing list, where he writes:

“We want to be able to focus our engineering efforts on the things that matter most to our users, and in order to do that we need to get some more data about sort of setups our users have and which software they are running on it,”

Since few (if any) users would choose to opt-in to share this sort of data, Canonical is making participation in the scheme entirely opt-out.

That means, unless you choose otherwise, Ubuntu 18.04 will automatically compile data about your system and send it back to the cheerful chaps and chapesses at Canonical HQ in order “help improve Ubuntu”.

‘Anyone who doesn’t want to share data with Ubuntu can quickly opt-out before install’

It isn’t a particularly unreasonable request.

You may, like me, be surprised that Ubuntu doesn’t collect this sort of data already!

Besides, when compared to the invasive tentacles groping every and every facet of usage on other operating systems Ubuntu’s ask for some sedate sounding system details barely registers as a soft tickle in the privacy department (oo-err).

On the flip side, given Ubuntu’s track record in the area of privacy — leaky Unity search results, Big Brother awards, and so on — some people will feel uneasy at this development.

Anyone who doesn’t want to share this data can untick the box, opt-out, and continue their install.

What Data Will Ubuntu Collect?

neofetch running in GNOME terminal on Ubuntu 16.04

The data Ubuntu says it wants to collect about your system sounds rather innocuous. It will include:

  • Which version of Ubuntu you’re installing (including which flavour)
  • Whether you have network connectivity
  • Hardware stats, including CPU, RAM, GPU, etc
  • Your device vendor (e.g., Dell, Lenovo, etc)
  • Your country
  • How long your install took to complete
  • Whether you have auto login enabled
  • Your disk layout
  • Whether you chose to install third party codecs
  • Whether you chose to download updates during install

Canonical says no IP addresses are stored or as part of the process, and that all data is send using secure, encrypted connections.

If you use something like the Neofetch system info tool in your desktop screenshots you probably share a lot of this data with the world already.

Beyond collecting some install-time data Canonical also says it wants to enable two other services to collect other data as you use your system:

  • Ubuntu Popcon to track the relative popularity of apps, packages and so on
  • Apport — to automatically send anonymous crash reports

Alongside the option to opt-out of data collection during the installer, options will also be added to the Privacy panel in the Settings app so that you can disable/opt-out of at any time.

Ubuntu will make the results of the data public, for everyone to see

You know what’s most interesting about this?

Canonical says it will make the results of the data it gathers public.

Anyone with a curious eye or of a nosey persuasion (i.e. bloggers like me) will be able to go online and see the overall percentage and spread of Ubuntu installs across the world, the hardware Ubuntu runs on, the amount of RAM users have, the apps they use the most, and so on.

And that excites me greatly!

privacy System Tools ubiquity ubuntu 18.04 LTS ubuntu report