Home Business IT Open Source FSF, Canonical in war of words over Amazon ads

FSF, Canonical in war of words over Amazon ads

The founder of the Free Software Foundation, Richard M. Stallman, has slammed Ubuntu over its provision of Amazon search results for a regular search, prompting Canonical's community manager, Jono Bacon, to hit back, accusing him of spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt (FUD).

In an article titled "Ubuntu spyware: what to do?" on the FSF website, Stallman (pictured above) claimed that though one of the advantages of free software was to protect users from malicious software, Ubuntu was doing the exact opposite.

He was referring to the fact that when one searches Ubuntu for a local file using the desktop, the search results include related suggestions from Amazon.

"This is just like the first surveillance practice I learned about in Windows," he wrote. "My late friend Fravia told me that when he searched for a string in the files of his Windows system, it sent a packet to some server, which was detected by his firewall.

"Given that first example I paid attention and learned about the propensity of 'reputable' proprietary software to be malware. Perhaps it is no coincidence that Ubuntu sends the same information."

This feature can be switched off in Ubuntu, but Stallman said this was not sufficient; even if it was present but turned off by default, it would not be okay, he said.

"If a sufficient part of our community's opinion leaders view this issue in personal terms only, if they switch the surveillance off for themselves and continue to promote Ubuntu, Canonical might get away with it," he wrote. "That would be a great loss to the free software community."

Stallman said the FOSS community should make it clear to Canonical that this kind of feature was not okay.

"If you ever recommend or redistribute GNU/Linux, please remove Ubuntu from the distros you recommend or redistribute. If its practice of installing and recommending nonfree software didn't convince you to stop, let this convince you," he wrote.

"In your install fests, in your Software Freedom Day events, in your FLISOL events, don't install or recommend Ubuntu. Instead, tell people that Ubuntu is shunned for spying."

Bacon, who said he was not necessarily speaking for Canonical, did not directly deal with Stallman's objections to the Amazon feature, instead claiming that some of the statements the FSF founder had made were not factual.

"When controvosies (sic) such as this kick off from time to time about Canonical and/or Ubuntu, my approach has never been to try and convince our critics that they are wrong," he wrote. "My goal is not to turn the unbelievers into worshippers at the church of Ubuntu. My only goal has been to ensure that everyone who participates in the debate trades in facts and not in misinformation and FUD; there is enough misinformation and FUD on the Internet without us all adding to it."

He said that asking people to shun Ubuntu and claiming that any excuse Canonical offered for the Amazon feature was inadequate, Stallman was spreading fear, uncertainty and doubt.

"These statements simply generate fear, uncertainty, and doubt about Ubuntu; a project that has a long history of bringing Free Software to millions of users around the world with an open community and governance," Bacon wrote.

"In Ubuntu we want to build a platform that is even more beautiful, elegant and delightful than Apple, but is infused with the Free Software values that empower that technology, education, creativity and collaboration in everyone.

"But unfortunately, as far as Richard is concerned, if Ubuntu doesn’t meet his specific requirements around privacy or Free Software, irrespective that it has brought Free Software to millions of users and thousands of organizations, (sic) and despite the fact that you might not share his viewpoint, you should shun it."

This just seems a bit childish to me.


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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.