Ubuntu users might already be familiar with the upcoming Shopping Lens function: the Home Lens, somewhat similar to Windows’ Start menu, will automatically search for products similar to your search term on services like Amazon. That means that typing something like “Photoshop” into your Home Lens will not only display search results for “Photoshop” in your applications, but display search results from online stores as well, giving you quick access to pages where you can buy the Photoshop software package.
Thomas Kluyver has, however, pointed out an uncomfortable fact on the Ubuntu bug tracker. In his own words, “this [function] means that regular searches for local applications and files are transmitted to a remote server, which I believe breaks an expectation of privacy”. He concedes that the problem can be alleviated by uninstalling the unity-lens-shopping package, but believes “it should be opt-in, not opt-out, and I also think the feature is useful, so I don’t want to remove it completely from my system”.
The bug report suggests that the problem “could be easily avoided if the shopping lens were separate, rather than showing results in the home lens” and users “could opt in with a single click, as [they] currently can with the video lens”. The bug has been “confirmed” but has an undecided priority and no major moves to correct it have been made. The Shopping Lens makes its début with Ubuntu 12.10, which will be released this October and is currently available for download in a beta form.
Canonical’s Mark Shuttleworth has so far only responded with: “We are not telling Amazon what you are searching for. Your anonymity is preserved because we handle the query on your behalf.” Regardless, this has not instilled confidence in a large portion of the user base. Shuttleworth’s snarky “Don’t trust us? Erm, we have root.” comment has also been blasted, as Canonical’s hypothetical root access through controlling the Ubuntu code-base only extends a certain distance: all of Ubuntu’s source code is visible and can be vetted, whereas users can’t know what Canonical are doing with their search data.