Canonical performs u-turn over Amazon search results in Ubuntu 12.10

Canonical performs u-turn over Amazon search results in Ubuntu 12.10

Summary: Users of the upcoming Ubuntu 12.10 will be able to turn off a controversial 'shopping lens' feature that displays Amazon-stocked products when the user performs a unified local and online search.

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TOPICS: Linux, Amazon
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Canonical is working on a toggle to let Ubuntu users block Amazon-stocked products from appearing in their desktop search results.

Following extensive disquiet from Ubuntu users in the last week — some interpreted the feature as making advertising part of their Linux desktop experience — Canonical community manager Jono Bacon said on Thursday that users would be able to turn off the 'shopping lens' feature.

Amazon results in Ubuntu
Amazon results in Ubuntu 12.10 Image: Jono Bacon

"You will be able to disable the feature if you wish. There is work going on to have a toggle switch in the settings to disable it," Bacon wrote in a blog post, noting that this would affect all online searches, including those for services such as the microblogging tool Gwibber.

The company added the feature to a beta of the upcoming Ubuntu 12.10 version (Quantal Quetzal) last week. The feature is part of the Unity Dash search bar, which returns results from local content and now online content as well — however, Amazon is the first and so far only online service from which a search will pull results, and many users saw this as an example of adware.

Canonical chief Mark Shuttleworth defended the move last Sunday, saying the firm was "not putting ads in Ubuntu" as the returned results were not paid for, and stressing that Ubuntu was "not telling Amazon what you are searching for".

That said, Canonical does take a cut if any products are sold by Amazon as a result of the search deal, and researchers subsequently established that Ubuntu search queries do indeed tell Amazon's servers what is being searched for.

As Bacon said in a blog post a few days ago, what Amazon does not get is identifying information about the user, apart from their IP address. He also said the release version of Ubuntu 12.10 will see the searches encrypted.

Topics: Linux, Amazon

David Meyer

About David Meyer

David Meyer is a freelance technology journalist. He fell into journalism when he realised his musical career wouldn't pay the bills. David's main focus is on communications, as well as internet technologies, regulation and mobile devices.

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18 comments
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  • Hmm..

    I think for most users of ubuntu they would have always worked out how to turn the ads off, but I suppose it's good canonical have done it for us. Of course it'd be nicer if they offered an option to turn it off at install.

    I get that everything has to be paid for, but this is a new step for any linux distro; imbedding ads, and they are definitely ads; when I set up my first website, I wasn't paid for having ads on my site, but by the number of people who followed those ads, which is basically the same thing. If they weren't ads, canonical wouldn't benifit from them.

    My first thought was 'ah theres all ways mint' my ubuntu based distro of choice. But this is a real big shift in the linux world, and I understand why some are nervous. Personally I can't stand ads; if amazon gave me the choice, i'd pay an extra 30 quid every time not to have them on kindle devices. That said, it's been obvious canonical has plans for Ubuntu.

    We've had all the usual rumors; that they were going to market the OS, close it off (gpl people) go into hardware, basically find a way to cash in on it's popularity. Nothing wrong with that, they are a corporate entity that makes money out of linux services, it's their business, but it's understandable that the linux faithful are annoyed.

    Personally I'd hoped that they'd be content with making money from their software centre, but advertising is another route. However I think they'll stop short of the annoying banners used by app developers and amazon devices; i don't think people are ready for this on their desk/laptops.

    At the end of the day they have been quite clear that the goal is for ubuntu to become the popular face of linux; the third OS behind windows and mac, they are all ready looking at an android app that turns phones into mobile desktops, and windows tablets will provide them another route to achieve this. All this expansion needs to be paid for, and my guess is they're looking to expand their income.
    MarknWill
    • Firefox

      Firefox had a deal with google to get paid per search. This is similar. To compete with Apple and Microsoft this can be a way to offer content which normal users are looking for. It can be turned off, so the best of two worlds.

      Amazon and Google are of course interested in offering customers a way to use their services without Microsoft and Apple. Imagine the damage it can be made to Amazon and Google if they get totally dependent on their competitors Microsoft and Apple. Microsoft and Apple tries to promote their own alternatives on OSX, iOS, Windows and potentionally limit/sabotage for the competition.
      Oden79
  • Canonical performs u-turn over Amazon search results in Ubuntu 12.10

    Remember what I said about Canonical and linux having no direction? Me too and I love being right. This company flip flops so much you would have to be crazy to install their linux. You never know when they are going to change it up again. Imagine the day when they change it and you are no longer able to compile your own kernel. Disaster everywhere for linux. I love watching linux self implode.
    Loverock Davidson-
    • This isn't a flip-flop

      This is called "listening to your users". More companies should learn to do it.
      Michael Alan Goff
    • Half a mo Davidson

      This is not a Linux thing. It's Shuttleworth. Canonical ***es me of at the moment beacuse of the Amazon thing, but at least MS has said we'll get the off switch. Ubuntu tends to introduce a technology a bit too fast for some. Unity over Gnome II for one. Perhaps the early roll out of Unity was a little to hasty and ended up in production editions when it should have been on limited release. Perhaps we need longer Alpha and Beta phases for ironing things out.

      Now LR, you are a famous commentator and a man of entirely limited vision. Linux based on Unix and Ubuntu on Debian out of Linux is not, and Macs and Windows remain in their badly run zoos.

      If somone like LR couls take MS aside in desperation MS knowing he's got the best thing in the world won't tilt at a windmill of a bit of Amazon finance
      CharlesNorrie
  • Stealing Amazon.com Commissions

    I don't appreciate Canonical stealing commissions I would rather give to my favorite merchant. I like to visit a non-profit site that is provided commissions from their links to amazon.com which help them stay alive, and I do not like Canonical stealing those commissions with their links embedded in their operating system. I'll never use them again until they take this code completely out of their code base instead of just "allowing" us to turn it off.
    ShortyStuff
    • Come again?

      How do you figure Canonical is stealing commissions from your charity website? One of us is confused. Could you explain your claims?

      The Unity Shopping Lens feature has exactly nothing to do with the activity you are describing. Don't use the shopping lens and problem solved. Go to the charity website like you do now and follow their promotional link like you do now.
      cabdriverjim
  • Hmm...

    I think they shouldn't have a thing going on at all. It's totally not in line with what free software is all about.
    They should stay the heck of of this game.
    Naryan
    • how is this any different

      than Mozilla's deal with google to put google's search engine in the browser for a cut of the ad proffits?
      theoilman
      • It isn't

        But I'm sure people have nothing else to faux outrage about.
        Michael Alan Goff
        • Duh

          Google - top search engine with the best search algorithm.

          Amazon - retail storefront that sells product.

          Yeah, no difference there at all.
          SgtSpork
      • re: how is this any different

        > how is this any different
        > than Mozilla's deal with google to put
        > google's search engine in the browser for a cut of the ad proffits?

        You're right. It's exactly the same. I don't know why Mozilla didn't put a search engine kill switch in their browser. That would have solved the problem of seeing search engine ads. Unless you know of a search engine that's not supported by ads.
        none none
  • Mint will expand its lead

    Stuff like this is why Mint is overtaking Ubuntu. YES, I KNOW Mint is based on Ubuntu but there are very different choices being made by Mint and they are creating a better user experience.
    SgtSpork
  • Why are we so cheap!!!!

    When we could buy a copy of Ubuntu at Best Buy a few yrs back I bought the only two that I could locate here in the Tucson area and installed them. And gave them to family members with the support provided by Canonical.

    We all need to make money and the thought that they monetize a portion of the OS but do not charge for the system seems fair to me! You could have turned off this feature if you wanted. It is truly wonderful that Canonical listened to the users.

    I think that if Linux is to be a dominate force in the desktop market we need to make it a success. Android is a success and it never uses that L word to stay away from the perception that it is a system that is used buy cheap people unwilling to pay for a better operating system!

    I think that if we all made a small annual donation and made our preferred distro's financially successful the commercial world would take Linux a little more serious. Those that use Linux know what a powerful, secure and stable system it is. I think it is time that those that work on it deserve to be compensated. And IMO this might get us a little closer to the yr of the Linux desktop.
    azvicrider
    • Pony Up

      http://www.ubuntu.com/community/get-involved/donate
      Will Sams
  • Yet another reason I use Mint!

    I don't trust Ubuntu any more...
    eye4bear
    • Couldn't Agree More

      Canonical should either be genuinely open and honest and start charging for Ubuntu or stop making these amateurish attempts at making money from everyday users.
      For so long Ubuntu was in what most assumed was an unassailable position at the forefront of the drive to promote and increase Linux use.
      Then they let that go to their heads and forgot that no matter how popular Ubuntu was it was still a long long way behind Windows and Mac OS's in terms of a solid, regular and real user base. They introduced the dire Unity interface and the cracks started to show. Now this disgraceful cack-handed attempt to make money via Amazon adverts. Yes they are adverts regardless of what Shuttleworth would try to have us believe.
      Ubuntu has slipped to third on the Distrowatch list, below Mageia that only came into being last year!
      Like the Gnome developers Canonical are arrogantly and foolishly ignoring what their users are saying.
      Ubuntu is free and always will be Canonical tell us. While that is a a big plus there is a flip side to that ethos. Because it is free means users have no real need or incentive to keep using it any longer than they feel like doing so. The users are also free, free to dump Ubuntu and use an alternative distro. Which is what is happening thanks to Canonical themselves who do not possess the courage to admit they were wrong.
      antonravioli
  • Worried

    It's a slippery slope Canonical is toying with. I understand everyone needs to make money, but this was the wrong way of going about it and goes against the spirit of the distro itself. I love Ubuntu, love Canonical, but "don't be evil".
    Will Sams