The inclusion of Amazon product links in Unity caused a major firestorm a while back, with some users quite angry that Canonical had included them by default in Ubuntu. OMG! Ubuntu! reports that Canonical has finally backtracked on this decision and will soon make them opt-in instead in Unity 8.
But were the Amazon links all that big of a deal? I didn’t think so and still don’t.
Future versions of Ubuntu will not show users Amazon product results in the Unity Dash by default — a reversal of a core feature introduced to desktop users in 2012.
Canonical’s Michael Hall, speaking on Google+, explains that the next version of Unity, currently in development, will require users to ‘opt-in’ to see results from specific online sources.
Image credit: OMG! Ubuntu!
Distribution developers need dollars!
One of the big problems that many Linux distribution developers have is trying to generate revenue to continue their efforts over time. The Amazon product results that Canonical included in Unity was one way of generating some money to help continue the company’s development of Ubuntu without directly charging users for the distribution.
But many users were quite angry about it, and organizations such as the EFF and others criticized Canonical sharply for the privacy issues related to such product results being included without the user’s explicit permission. Mozilla has recently gotten somewhat similar criticisms for its decision to include advertising in Firefox.
Personally, I didn’t have a big problem with either thing since I understand the need for both companies to generate some kind of income. Such features, if you want to call them that, don’t bother me as long as the user has a way of easily turning them off if he or she doesn’t want them. Unfortunately, Canonical really didn’t include an easy way to to do that with the Amazon product results in Unity.
Canonical goofed initially with user controls
Yes, you can turn them off as noted in the other article from OMG! Ubuntu! that I’ve included below but it’s not necessarily an easy or intuitive thing for most users. And to me that was really the problem with how Canonical handled them initially. If you wanted to turn it off in the system settings, you had to turn off all online search results and that was not the right way to handle it since some users just wanted to turn off the Amazon results while keeping the others.
Purging unwanted product suggestions from Ubuntu 13.04 is a simple case of uninstalling the‘Unity Shopping Lens‘ plugin from the Ubuntu Software Centre and rebooting.
In Ubuntu 13.10 (and later) you’ll need to manually search out the scopes you wish to disable in the Dash – e.g. Amazon, Canonical Shop, eBay and the Ubuntu One Music Store – give them a right-click, and choose the ‘Disable‘ option from the Unity Preview that appears.
The new way of doing it at least gives the user more control and lets him or her avoid seeing Amazon product results altogether, and that’s ultimately a very good thing. It’s just a shame that Canonical didn’t think of this when they first decided to include them. If they’d thought more about it they could have simply avoided all of the controversy in the first place.
Canonical’s change of heart in Unity
So what motivated Canonical to make these changes? I’d like to think that it was the fierce criticisms about user privacy and preferences. Or perhaps it’s just part of their overall vision and design plans for Unity? But it’s also quite possible that the Amazon links just weren’t bringing in enough money to warrant Canonical putting up with the ongoing anger of some users and organizations. We’ll probably never know all of the real reasons why Canonical is changing how Amazon links are handled in Unity, but at least the changes will happen and that’s the important thing.
I guess that just illustrates the one of the dangers of thinking of revenue first and user privacy and preferences second. It’s too bad that it took Canonical this long to figure it out but at least they managed to get it done even if took much longer than it should have. Hopefully Mozilla and other companies are paying attention to Canonical’s experience and are learning from it.
Sometimes the burned hand teaches best, and Canonical sure did get scorched!
What’s your take on this? Tell me in the comments below.