Ubuntu will no longer be able to track which packages desktop users install from the archives.

The “popularity-contest” tool that has shipped as part of the standard Ubuntu install since the distro’s early days is being decoupled from the install image.

But what does popcon do? Well, to quote the Ubuntu help page for it:

The Ubuntu Popularity Contest […] gathers statistics determining which packages are the most popular with Ubuntu users. Once a week, the popularity-contest package submits data to a central server.

The stats popcon gathers were apparently used to help “improve future versions of Ubuntu so that the most popular packages are the ones which are installed automatically for new users.”

Except, er, it’s been a long time since Ubuntu added or removed an app to its default install. And when it did choose to add the GNOME To Do app a few years back it wasn’t because of “popularity”.

Privacy Conscious? This is the data Ubuntu collects about your PC

Plus Snaps, Flatpaks, PPAs and other app distribution avenues give developers a more direct way to market to users, and more accurate numbers on how many people use their software. Thus the relative merits of “what’s popular in the repos” is …Well, a touch moot.

So future installs of Ubuntu desktop will no longer include the popularity contest package by default.

Which it turns out is just as well because the thing doesn’t work!

Canonical’s Michael Hudson Doyle says “…the package and backend have both been broken since 18.04 LTS without being much missed.”

Though creepy sounding, all the tracking the package does is kept anonymous. The results of data is viewable publicly on the popcon.ubuntu.com website.

Is “Ubuntu removes thing which doesn’t work and no-one uses” front page news? No, but it’s a notable removal that keeps pace with the changing nature of Linux package distribution and procurement.

It is possible to remove Ubuntu popularity contest from an existing Ubuntu install. Just launch a Terminal window and run:

sudo apt remove popularity-contest

Enter your password and hit y to approve. The process will also remove the ubuntu-standard package. This is a meta-package that tells Ubuntu which packages to pull in as part of a ‘standard’ install. While it shouldn’t (generally speaking) be removed it’s the only way to remove popcon fully.

Unless you don’t mind its broken rump end being parked on your system of course!

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