updated 05:59 pm EDT, Tue October 30, 2012
Search results transmitted to Amazon, Facebook, others by default
Web search settings in the latest Ubuntu 12.10 are to blame for what the Electronic Frontier Foundation calls a "data leak" and a privacy violation. Unless settings are altered, every time a search is performed for a document, application, or other file using the Dash feature, the search includes results from Amazon. Search results can also return advertisements sent unencrypted in the results, allowing for Wi-Fi or network sniffers to intercept and read the text.
Additionally, the new version of Dash by default sends keystrokes as a search term to "productsearch.ubuntu.com and selected third parties so that we may complement your search results with online search results from such third parties including: Facebook, Twitter, BBC and Amazon," according to the documentation. The forwarding is able to be opted out of, but the transmission is enabled by default.
Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth defended the inclusion of the Amazon advertisements and the query forwarding in the Unity Dash by saying that users' "anonymity is preserved because we handle the query on your behalf. Don't trust us? Erm, we have root. You do trust us with your data already. You trust us not to screw up on your machine with every update."
The Electronic Frontier Foundation would like to see three things in future versions of Ubuntu. The privacy advocacy group wants online search results disabled by default, more detail shared about the use of search queries and the associated IP addresses collected in the process, and the search results tab allow users to toggle on and off specific online search results.