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Unity 8: Canonical wisely makes Amazon links opt-in

March 31, 2014

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.

More at OMG! Ubuntu!

Canonical makes Amazon links opt-in in Unity 8

In Unity 8 you can choose the scopes you want to search.

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.

More at OMG! Ubuntu!

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.


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9 Responses to Unity 8: Canonical wisely makes Amazon links opt-in

  1. Brian on April 2, 2014 at 3:14 pm

    I am OK with the Amazon links since it pays for some of the development costs.
    The Mozilla Foundation is doing something similar by having Google Search as the default search engine. Their deal with Google gives them enough money to continue developing Firefox and experiment with Firefox OS. Without the Google money, Firefox wouldn’t be able to attract and pay such good developers.

    • Jim Lynch on April 4, 2014 at 3:55 pm

      Yes, there has to be some sort of business model since all of these projects have some sort of financial cost associated with them. I hate that Mozilla is so dependent on Google though, ugh. I hope they can figure out an alternative way of financing that project.

  2. Brent R Brian on April 2, 2014 at 11:30 am

    Some people still pay for the bandwidth they use …

    • Jim Lynch on April 4, 2014 at 3:56 pm

      Great point, Brent. And that’s why any of these things should be easily toggled on or off by the user. One size does not fit all, so the user must be empowered to make their own choices. That was Canonical’s big mistake when they first did the Amazon links.

  3. None on April 2, 2014 at 7:45 am

    The main problem is not the inclusion of links but fact ubuntu transmits your private search terms to Canonical.

  4. Robert on April 2, 2014 at 2:41 am

    I use linux because it’s free and freedom. I don’t believe it was created to be a money maker for anyone. I hate the advertising included with ubuntu, it just plain sucks. I would rather pay a reasonable fee to download it instead. I already do that with parted magic. I think this is a much better option. Advertising works if it is presented in a way that is not annoying. After all, I just bought a book from Amazon because of the ad links on this site.

    • Jim Lynch on April 2, 2014 at 3:21 am

      Thanks so much for your support, Robert. It really helps, and I’m glad you found the Amazon related books useful. I have been wondering what folks would think of them.

  5. PuzzledObserver on March 31, 2014 at 8:43 pm

    Is there any user who actually likes the Amazon products included in the dash search results? Suffice there is only ONE single user in the world who likes that, it will justify at least the development efforts. In my case, these irrelevant, intrusive and unwanted Amazon products that pollute my search results had developed a negative neuro-feedfack in me. Even exposed for a short time before I remove all of that Amazon silly stuffs, this was enough for me to hate both Ubuntu and Amazon. As a result, I moved away from Ubuntu. What an irony, all the”innovations” Canonical had made had led to the opposite of the intended goal.

    • Jim Lynch on April 4, 2014 at 3:58 pm

      Your reaction is understandable, and it underscores how important it is to place total control of these things in the hands of the users. Those who don’t want to use it should be able to opt out in a transparent, intuitive way with just a couple of clicks in the controls.

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