The inclusion of Amazon results in Ubuntu 12.10 has been controversial since the start. With users reporting that data was unencrypted, and while requests were anonymous, results were being sent back directly to the inquirer. It’s turned on by default in upgrades and fresh installs, and the off switch is not in the obvious place.
So it’s no surprise that the Electronic Frontier Foundation has found issue with this inclusion:
“It’s a major privacy problem if you can’t find things on your own computer without broadcasting what you’re looking for to the world. You could be searching for the latest version of your résumé at work because you’re considering leaving your job; you could be searching for a domestic abuse hotline PDF you downloaded, or legal documents about filing for divorce; maybe you’re looking for documents with file names that will gave away trade secrets or activism plans; or you could be searching for a file in your own local porn collection. There are many reasons why you wouldn’t want any of these search queries to leave your computer.”
The EFF further point out that Canonical sends the data to unknown Third Parties unless you opt-out of the online searches. You can read the whole post on their blog, including a way to remove it altogether. They also put out a list of requirements they wish to see in the future of Ubuntu such as:
Disable “Include online search results” by default
Explain in detail what you do with search queries and IP addresses
Allow users to toggle on and off specific search results
“We love that Ubuntu is bold enough to break new ground and compete directly with the large proprietary operating systems, but please make sure that you respect your users’ privacy and security while you’re doing it. Windows and Mac users are used to having their data sent to third parties without their express consent by software companies that are trying to maximize profits for their shareholders. Let’s make sure Ubuntu, like the GNU/Linux operating system at its heart, remains an exception to this.”