Canonical defends Ubuntu 12.10's integrated Amazon search
A small storm of protest over the addition of a new Amazon shopping lens in the latest update to the current pre-release version of Ubuntu 12.10 has seen Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth come out to defend the change. The new lens adds "More Suggestions" when using the Dash search functionality – brought up by pressing the "super" key – and sources the information from Amazon.
Critics have claimed that this change is adding advertising from which Canonical will gather referral fees. In response to this criticism, Shuttleworth posted on his blog saying that it is not advertising and that nothing had actually changed apart from the addition of the shopping lens. The "super" key, usually a Windows key on most keyboards, when pressed brings up the Dash Home Lens which, he says, "should let you find *anything* anywhere" so the addition of Amazon search results makes "perfect sense".
Part of the problem for some users is that they have already got used to Unity and pressing the "super" key to search locally. Other lenses, such as the music and video lenses, have included external content, but this is the first time an external content lens has been incorporated into the Dash Home lens. Shuttleworth suggests that if users wish to search just for local files or applications they should use "super"+F and "super"+A which restrict the searches. The latter does, however, also suggest other applications based on the local package database.
For others the issue is that the dash is sending desktop queries to Amazon. On the last point, Shuttleworth says the queries go via Canonical servers, specifically productsearch.ubuntu.com. "Your anonymity is preserved because we handle the query on your behalf. Don’t trust us? Erm, we have root. You do trust us with your data already. You trust us not to screw up on your machine with every update" said Shuttleworth. The reference to root was clarified in the comments later as being related to how Canonical's updates are installed as root. Also in the comments, it was pointed out the queries were currently being sent to that server unencrypted.
Some users have wondered why no web search results are displayed. Shuttleworth says they are "not trying to out Google Google. If you want to search the web, it's best to hit Google in your browser of choice" adding that the Dash is "for 'things' like Apps or stuff from Amazon". The news of the new addition appeared in various Linux media outlets over the weekend, without any introduction or explanation from Canonical. This led to angry comments and a suggestion that Canonical should manage their communications better when introducing potentially controversial features. As it was, Shuttleworth and Jono Bacon, community manager at Canonical, both took to their blogs to explain the new feature and why it was useful.
If a user doesn't want the shopping lens, it appears that the only route to disabling it is to completely remove it with the command
sudo apt-get remove unity-lens-shopping
as there doesn't appear to be a way for a user to fine tune which lenses the Dash Home uses. The other option is that a user could stay on Ubuntu 12.04 LTS, which is, as its version number says, a long-term support version.