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

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.
Written by David Meyer, Contributor

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.

Editorial standards