Audacity reverses course on plans to add opt-in telemetry after outcry

Audio editor has adopted self-hosted error reporting in response to its community rising up against now-scrapped plans to use Google and Yandex analytics.
Written by Chris Duckett, Contributor

What a busy few weeks it has been for the venerable audio editor Audacity.

At the end of April, it was announced that Muse Group had acquired the editor, with Muse pledging Audacity would remain "forever free and open source".

"I'm proud of how Audacity has achieved so much success over the years, but there are many features and user interface improvements that I've always wanted Audacity to have, but were difficult to achieve as a small, community-supported project," Audacity co-founder Dominic Mazzoni said at the time.

Muse Group head of creative software Martin Keary said the contributor community were the "heart and soul of Audacity and our job is to make their lives easier by providing design and development support".

A week later, a pull request landed, turning on "strictly optional and disabled by default" telemetry, but the optionality of it was not enough to stop the community from erupting.

By the end of last week, Keary was back and said the previous telemetry features were being dropped.

"The creation and subsequent discovery of PR #835 was a bad communication/coordination blunder that caught us completely by surprise," Keary said.

"We're very sorry for causing so much alarm. Our intention was to make an initial announcement about our plans to introduce telemetry on the Audacity forum, similar to how we discussed the topic for MuseScore in 2019.

"In that instance, I think the fact that we introduced the issue openly resulted in a lot less suspicion."

Keary said the community uproar over using Google and Yandex was "at odds with the public perception of trustworthiness", and Audacity would now self-host its Sentry error reporting database.

"We assumed that making [telemetry] opt-in would allay privacy concerns but since this isn't the case, we are dropping it," he said.

"We are currently interested in SQLite errors, application crashes, and non-fatal exceptions. If one of these events is detected, a dialog will appear that explains the nature of the problem and offers to send an error report to us, the Audacity developers."

Additionally, the official builds of Audacity will perform an update check on startup, which will send Muse the user's IP address that will be stored as a "non-reversible hash", OS version, and program version. The check can be turned off by the user.

Keary added that both the error reporting and update check can be removed when building from source.

In his latest missive, Keary said he was only addressing the most pressing issues related to analytics pull request, and there would be "a lot more communication in future".

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