Ubuntu added a new data collection tool to its latest release — but what kind of data does it collect exactly?

Canonical is being upfront and open about the new Ubuntu data collection policy

Thanks to the doors-wide-open nature of open-source software developers it’s very easy for you to find out.

It also helps that Canonical is being (unusually) upfront and open about the Ubuntu data collection policy, which I should add is entirely opt-out for new Ubuntu 18.04 installs, and opt-in on upgrades.

Whether you plan on making the upgrade to 18.04, or you already have (but whizzed through the Ubuntu Welcome screens without paying attention) read on to see what data Ubuntu collects, collates, and couriers back to Canonical.

Ubuntu Data Collection in 18.04+

privacy in Ubuntu
Ubuntu 18.04 includes a data collection tool called ‘Ubuntu Report’ – but what does it do?

Sorry, what?!

We were the first to report on Ubuntu’s plans to gather system metrics in new installs of 18.04 LTS onwards.

And I’ll be honest: when I first heard about the plan (surreptitiously via a code commit, in case you’re curious) I was a little worried.

Memories of the Ubuntu ‘Spyware’ debacle still linger in people’s minds

Worried not for Canonical and its plans but for the reaction the plans will generate among its (seemingly many) critics.

So when Canonical did go public with its wont to collect system data on new and existing Ubuntu installs a fair bit of, let’s say ‘consternation’ greeted the news.

Memories of the “Ubuntu Spyware” debacle still linger in people’s minds.

But it’s not fair; the anodyne Ubuntu Report tool in Ubuntu 18.04 is as far removed from the aforementioned meta-data munching mis-step as possible.

Unlike the Unity Dash the Ubuntu Report tool isn’t some privacy-invading tentacle looking to grope your system search habits for the purpose of serving you pointless shopping suggestions.

The reality is actually pretty boring.

Thankfully for my nerves (and no doubt the bods over at Canonical HQ) the majority of Ubuntu users are okay with the stated aims — a bit of anonymous system stat profiling isn’t a major cause for concern, tbh — plus we’re told the metrics will help improve Ubuntu.

Even better: Canonical publishes the results of the survey online for anyone to see.

Update 2020: you can now view the stats online.

Ubuntu Report: What Data Does It Collect?

Back to Ubuntu Report.

A check box to opt-out of sending info about your system to Canonical is part of the new first-run tool.

This tool, called “Ubuntu Welcome” greets all Ubuntu users, fresh installs and upgrades alike, the first time they login to Ubuntu 18.04 LTS:

Ubuntu welcome data collection opt-in screen

This “Help Improve Ubuntu” page reads:

“Ubuntu can report information that helps improve it. This includes things like the computer model, what software is installed, and the approximate location you choose.”

By default the box to opt-in is selected (“Yes, send system info to Canonical”) but you can easily opt-out (“No, don’t send system info”) should you wish to carry on computing in private.

Placing the “opt out” toggle in the Ubuntu Welcome app is the right idea.

Firstly, I’m generally impatient when I install Ubuntu. I speed-run through whatever screens are put before me in the vain hope of reaching “now installing” screen as soon as humanely possible. If the toggle had opt-out had been in Ubiquity (as initially planned) i’d have missed it.

Secondly, not everyone who uses Ubuntu installs Ubuntu. You can buy laptops pre-loaded with Ubuntu, pre-prepared devices are loaned to siblings, and so on.

Allowing the user and not the installer to decide whether system data is sent out into the digital ether is to be commended.

Here’s My System Data Report

Ubuntu system data collection
You can see the data collected by Ubuntu Report in your cache folder

It’s important to stress that, no user-identifiable data is collected or sent to Canonical. No account user names, no Ubuntu Single Sign-on details, no IP addresses, nothing.

The report collected on my system queried the following areas:

  • Ubuntu version
  • OEM/Manufacturer
  • Device model number
  • BIOS info
  • CPU details
  • GPU details
  • Installed RAM
  • Partition Info
  • Display(s) details
  • Auto-login status
  • Live Patching status
  • Desktop environment
  • Display server
  • Timezone

And that’s it.

Again; no user name, no IP address, no locale, no list of software or drivers I enabled. Just the same sort of system information I willing show off in screenshots showing the system info tool Neofetch.

Keeping the remit tight means no-one can attribute a system report to any person in particular.

With personal data outside the scope of the tool there’s precious little reason why you wouldn’t want to take part.

After all, by learning more about the hardware and systems we all Ubuntu developers can, in theory, prioritise fixes, support and development accordingly.

Ubuntu learning from its user base.

Will you take part in this Ubuntu system diagnostic reporting? Do you have concerns over the data being collected? Let us (and other readers) know in the comments below.

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#privacy #ubuntu 18.04 LTS