Ubuntu plans to collect data on desktop PCs – unless you tell it not to

Ubuntu laptop

Canonical is planning to make a change to Ubuntu which would mean that the popular Linux distro would collect information (or telemetry data) on desktop PCs during installation and afterwards.

And it’s a move which has immediately been criticized by some Linux fans, as you can imagine, drawing comparisons with Microsoft and Windows 10 which has had an infamously checkered history regarding hoovering up user data.

Will Cooke, Ubuntu Desktop Manager at Canonical, explained that this is happening because the company wants to work on the elements that matter most to Ubuntu users, and the data collected will help the firm decide what to focus on going forward.

That data will include the version of Ubuntu being installed, basic spec of the PC – CPU family, memory, disk size, GPU, display resolution, manufacturer – along with details of the third-party software selected, and time taken for the installation, among other information.

The OS will also gather data on location, although this will simply be the location selected by the user during installation – no IP address information will be collected. In other words, the data collected will be completely anonymized, and transferred via HTTPS for obvious security reasons.

Cooke further explained that some manner of checkbox option would be added to the Ubuntu installer, asking whether the user wants to ‘send diagnostics information to help improve Ubuntu’, but that this would be ticked by default.

In other words, data collection would be an opt-out affair, rather than a decision to opt-in.

Trend spotting

You might be forgiven for thinking this is just a case of a one-time firing off of info post-installation of Ubuntu, but Canonical also intends to install Popcon on consenting user’s PCs – to help pick out trends in package usage – along with Apport to send crash reports (anonymously).

All the data gathered, incidentally, would be made public, allowing everyone to see the percentages of Ubuntu users who use certain hardware.

As mentioned, there has been some predictably negative reaction in the chatter we’ve seen online, with one of the main points of controversy being the fact that the default setting is on rather than off.

Although this is perhaps less of an issue for Linux users than, say, Windows, as generally speaking open source OS devotees are a bit more clued-up as to what they’re doing during installation, and more likely to read prompts rather than gloss over things.

Still, that’s not exactly an excuse for Canonical, and it would certainly look better if the scheme was opt-in, rather than opt-out. Incidentally, if you don’t turn this feature off during installation, you’ll be able to do so later on in Gnome’s privacy panel.

Furthermore, bear in mind that this isn’t going to happen for sure – it’s just what Canonical is planning, so there could be a course change yet.

But if the move does go ahead as planned, it’s likely that the top rival distros, such as Mint, Fedora and Debian, will be rubbing their hands together at a potential influx of new users migrating to a different flavor of Linux. For some folks, even the perception that Canonical is taking some steps down the same road as Microsoft will likely be too much to bear.

Via The Register

Darren is a freelancer writing news and features for TechRadar (and occasionally T3) across a broad range of computing topics including CPUs, GPUs, various other hardware, VPNs, antivirus and more. He has written about tech for the best part of three decades, and writes books in his spare time (his debut novel - 'I Know What You Did Last Supper' - was published by Hachette UK in 2013).