back to article Ubuntu's Amazon 'adware' feature to be made opt in

Scopes, the controversial feature in Ubuntu, is being “gracefully retired”, says Canonical. The "commercial" search app, which combines product data from Amazon with data from your desktop and phone, is to be turned off by default in 16.04 LTS in April and in Unity 7 and 8. The Scopes in question are for Amazon and Skimlinks …

  1. stephajn

    Either that or...

    They got fed up with losing people to Linux Mint and are trying desperately to get people to come back. "Look everyone, we will make the bad man go away.....honest!"

    1. MyffyW Silver badge

      Re: Either that or...

      The wonder is that it took four years for this U-turn.

      Tying in with a shopping site was such a fundamentally lousy thing to do it should have set off alarm bells in all concerned. That it didn't (or they didn't listen) points to a worrying lack of ethical common sense.

      1. Mark 85

        Re: Either that or...

        Either the negative feedback on Win10's data slurp caught their attention or MS paid them off...

        1. Alan Bourke

          Re: Either that or...

          "MS paid them off ..."

          Even in the annals of irrational MS hatred that's quite the tinfoil hattery ...

      2. wayward4now

        Re: Either that or...

        It would have made GREAT SENSE to allow users to click on a desktop icon to turn on the shopping feature so that Ubuntu would have gotten s little bit of pass-through revenue. That wouldn't have cost a user anything, and they would have gotten a warm fuzzy to contribute knowingly. Maybe there wasn't enough swastikas and goose-stepping to consider that idea. I do know I got kicked off the Ubuntu User List for proposing that, NOW they want to change?? Fuck 'em, they can kiss my royal ass.

    2. eesiginfo

      Re: Either that or...

      I think that you are right, only that I see it in a more positive light.

      It is worth bearing in mind that many people actually like adverts!

      I was on a person's computer the other day and was shocked to see she hadn't got 'ad blocker' running.

      She looked at me in a vacant manner, and I realised that 'she liked seeing the ads'.... she's got disposable income.

      She might not be uber rich, but she can enjoy glancing at tantalising prospects (for her), and it's part of her computing experience.

      I'm not talking about the great 'Guiness/Moneysupermarket/Specsaver' ads, but just the general appearance of 'stuff', that one has been recently looking for, on eBay or whatever.

      An 'opt in or out' makes great sense, if you are trying to offer what many people want.

      The fact that it's (linked ads) probably not relevant to most Ubuntu users is no reason not to try it... rather it is a reason to try it (to discover if it could become relevant).

      Overall, the experiment made sense.

      ... and on that basis, perhaps we should view Ubuntu as an ongoing experiment (without end).

      Sections of the community vote, on any given experiment, with their feet.

      How wonderful to know that, there are other choice options available (after voting).... it's not like you are completely stuffed.

      So.... I was shocked by the ad route being taken..... I got over it.

      With 'Shuttleworth Bounder of Adventure' we are all on a voyage of discovery, knowing that there are so few other companies offering interesting voyages.

      I love it!

      Yes okay; criticism of where we are going..... but also hanging on, to see if something needed time to succeed, is also not necessarily poor judgement.

      The question might be better phrased 'how long do you need'?

      Perhaps the decision took too long..... perhaps it was a close run decision.

      I don't care.

      It didn't affect me one iota.... and for most people on this board, my guess is that it didn't affect you either.

      As for 'U' turns.... they are a sign of an advanced civilisation.

      Bizarrely knocked in the press, like as if we must put up with a bad decision (when it's been shown to be a bad decision).

      Personally, I'd rather have an administrator that can learn from 'errors', rather than one that stupidly hangs on to a concept that has failed.


      1. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

        Re: Either that or...

        "I realised that 'she liked seeing the ads'.... she's got disposable income."

        Has she also got malware?

      2. Teiwaz

        Re: Either that or...

        I don't know why they took so long to decide to switch it off by default. The results returned by Amazon were never appropriate or relevant (Amazon can barely be relevant with recommendations even when they can identify me as a customer). I was hoping for applications search to be the default scope for some time, not file search, I for one am more excited about that, as it's one of the changes.

        Unity 8 Scopes are quite different to Unity7, with several different scope types, most retrieving from one source and others amalgamating the output of the others into one output (e.g. 'Videos').

      3. stephajn

        Re: Either that or...

        Well said. Have an upvote for an argument well stated! :)

    3. a_singh

      Re: Either that or...

      Mint is not as popular as you think it is. It's users just tend to be more vocal about it.

    4. wayward4now

      Re: Either that or...

      I'm not holding my breath waiting for an apology from Ubuntu for tossing some of their best users off the mailing list for complaining about this issue. Getting rid of their "List Nazis" would be a good second step.

  2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

    Does “gracefully retired” mean "with weasel words"? If they'd come out & said "we got it wrong" it would have gained them some brownie points. I can't help feel that commercial search was half of what let Mint replace Ubuntu as the favourite desktop system.

    1. getHandle

      The man can launch frikkin rockets!

      He's not fussed about brownie points...

  3. keithpeter Silver badge

    The money

    I always wondered how much Amazon would pay for random desktop search terms like *perc*2014* and similar (percentages worksheets and lessons used in 2014/15 academic year in case you are wondering).

    Now I imagine we know - not enough to cover the cost of maintaining two versions over the Unity 7 to Unity 8 transition.

    1. Old Handle

      Re: The money

      I don't know, but if I were calling the shots, the best deal I'd offer for a setup that really looks fairly stupid from the advertiser's perspective too, is a cut of actual sales generated. And I'm guessing there weren't very many.

    2. thames

      Re: The money

      Scopes are really just Ubuntu's take on copying Apple's Spotlight. What Ubuntu added was the ability for you to install third party plug-ins in a sandbox rather than just hard-wiring in a few sources. I doubt that the "scopes" idea had anything to do with money for Canonical. Most of the scopes they added were not money generators in any way and I doubt the Amazon one had potential for non-trivial (for a company the size of Canonical) amounts of money.

      As a further anchor for the sort of numbers we are talking about, I recall reading that the search revenue that Linux Mint was getting from their own search customisation mods (putting a custom advertising header in Firefox) was generating derisory amounts of money. Of course Mint has a much smaller market share than Ubuntu, but in either case we are talking about very little money, unless you happen to be a one man operation.

      The idea of including Canonical written scopes was to act as examples in order to get third parties to write them, so Canonical did a few which showed that there was potential for revenue. The idea was that when you searched for something, it would also do things like search Github if you had a Github scope installed.

      I think that scopes were actually mainly meant for their phone platform, which is why they added things like an Amazon scope, which is a consumer oriented feature. They were using the desktop distro to try to kick-start the third party scope market for the phone. Scopes were supposed to be able to be extended to do all sorts of weird and useful things beyond just searching for stuff, although I can't remember the details (I didn't care enough to look into it further).

      Pretty much anything new that Canonical adds to Ubuntu can be found in MacOS or OS/X, with enough of a change to avoid getting sued by Apple. The third party plug-in aspect of Scopes might be different, but the idea of sending search information off to to the Internet isn't. Apple fires your search info off to Microsoft via deal for Bing search.

      By the way, to turn off Scopes, you can either un-install whatever specific Scopes you don't want via Software Centre, or just turn them off globally by going to Settings ==> Security & Privacy ==> Search (tab) and then turn the switch to off (when searching in the Dash, include on line search results). That's for 14.04, which is the current LTS release.

      You can also turn off the feature which tracks your most recently used files and applications (which is not part of Scopes), exclude specific things or file types (I haven't used this), clear data, or turn it off altogether. The same applies to diagnostic reports.

      I turned the feature off a couple of years ago as I have zero interest in it. I can say though that if we ever want an Internet where all the traffic isn't funnelled through a handful of big companies like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft (if they don't bin Bing as a hopeless cause that is), we'll need something like Scopes to give us a distributed search ability.

  4. msknight

    It's a start...

    Now all they have to do is kill Unity and I'll consider returning from Mint. maybe.

    1. Thecowking

      Re: It's a start...

      You don't have to run Unity, I use Ubuntu with Mate, so it's nearly the same as Mint, except the applications have all the same names that I was used to in the Gnome2 days. Thus all my custom scripts are happy.

      1. Pookietoo

        Re: You don't have to run Unity ...

        ... but I do. I really don't see what all the fuss was (and continues to be) about - it's not as if it was ever compulsory for Ubuntu users to run Unity, or allow external search scopes, but people seem to think Shuttlecock is as evil as Sony.

      2. Greg J Preece

        Re: It's a start...

        Yup, I agree. My only beef with the Amazon search thing was the lack of an off switch at launch, which was shitty behaviour, but once that got added I didn't care.

        But then again, I'm a Kubuntu user, so I didn't care much anyway. ;-)

        Note to Microsoft: lack of a working off switch is why I won't be installing that malware you call Windows 10.

    2. Doctor Syntax Silver badge

      Re: It's a start...

      "Now all they have to do is kill Unity"

      That was the other half.

    3. Teiwaz

      Re: It's a start...

      "Now all they have to do is kill Unity and I'll consider returning from Mint. maybe."

      Like that's going to happen....

      The 'Desktop' interface just doesn't work for the expanded device market that includes tablets and phones. If all Linux distros stuck to it, Linux would only be of interest to a small sub segment of the potential user base and become irrelevant in ten years. I can see Gnome looking and working well as a tablet UI, and KDE are slowly getting back on track with a mobile plasma shell (eventually). The Linux Desktops are all evolving into 'modern' interfaces, each with their own take on the idea.

      Personally I don't use Unity except for causal use, for more productive tasks I use a well configured Window Manager (usually Xmonad, i3 or Herbstluftwm, sometimes Openbox).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Teiwaz - Re: It's a start...

        So, you didn't tell us what's wrong with a Desktop interface for desktops ? Why do I have to endure the same interface on a 5in and on a 25in screen ?

        1. Greg J Preece

          Re: @Teiwaz - It's a start...

          So, you didn't tell us what's wrong with a Desktop interface for desktops ? Why do I have to endure the same interface on a 5in and on a 25in screen ?

          You don't. I simply can't accept arguments - from Linux users of all bloody people - that they're forced to endure any windowing system. You know full well that Ubuntu will happily run most major windowing systems and that ready-made spins are usually available.

  5. lurker

    Not a day too soon

    "Improved user customisation" as an excuse for adware and privacy violations is getting tiresome now, and coming from a supposedly 'open source' company with an operating system named after a philosophy based on 'human kindness' it was always going to irritate people.

    An excellent case study in how to destroy much of your company's built up goodwill for the sake of a quick buck, in my opinion.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    In short

    This is my machine, I paid for it, I decide what it does & that includes which web sites I visit or send information to.

    The operating system makes the resources of the machine available to the user and that's all it's supposed to do.

  7. Dr Paul Taylor

    use Xubuntu instead

    More geek-friendly, more resource-friendly, no commercial searches (unless you choose to make them).

    1. Lysenko

      Re: use Xubuntu instead

      Or Lubuntu. Unity and Gnome 3 are right up there with TIFKAM in terms of hubris fueled foot marksmanship.

    2. Chairo

      Re: use Xubuntu instead

      I also prefer Xubuntu, but it should be noted, that they don't offer the same long term support than for the regular LTS Ubuntu distros.

      Of course you can also install Ubuntu and then change the window manager to whatever you prefer. Unfortunately you then still have to deinstall some Unity stuff by hand. In particular those Unity scrollbar slider things. Oh, and the next OS upgrade brings back all Unity glory and makes it default again.

      1. Nattrash

        Re: use Xubuntu instead

        Not sure I understand what you mean...

        The Xubuntu LTS releases are on the same timeline as the Ubuntu releases

      2. Lysenko

        Re: use Xubuntu instead

        If LTS matters the the desktop doesn't and if the desktop matters then LTS doesn't. That's my view anyway. LTS is really a server concern. User workstations are subject to app upgrades and general wetware fiddling so LTS for the OS is neither here nor there in practice.

  8. Paul Crawford Silver badge

    I have no problem with the Ubuntu team getting money from any Amazon searches provided it is done with my explicit consent.

    I was rather annoyed by them for doing it be default when you might be searching for stuff on your private machine. Had they simply offered two search boxes, one clearly labelled for the "local machine", and one for "internet & shopping", I reckon most folk would have had no major beef about it.

  9. Bbbbit

    Was it worth it, Mark?

    I can only think they REALLY needed the money.

    What kind of wonk looked at the Linux-user demographic and thought,

    "Now there's a group of people, having escaped the fascist constraints of commercial proprietary software, that will not mind having their data pimped to one of the world's biggest evil-capitalist-consumer* empires in the history of mankind! Make Amazon-Scope happen (and enable it by default)!"

    Whatever the arguments for and against, it showed a certain lack of community awareness and perception counts for so much these days.

    That is not to say Ubuntu is not a bloody good distro; it is a cracker, but when these things happen you do tend to think "if I could see that was a terrible idea, why couldn't they?."

    Mr Shuttleworth should take some solace that at least he did not come up with the Ed-Stone for the recent Labour election campaign. For those outside the UK, check it out and feel better about yourself.

    *Not completely my personal view but you get the idea.

  10. This post has been deleted by its author

  11. wayward4now

    Ubuntu built my hotrod


    "I wanna luv yah!"

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