Further Online Dash Clarifications

Recently there has been some concerns in our community about the online dash search feature, and these concerns have been orientated around the privacy of your data, the legal requirements for how this data is handled, and the effectiveness of the search.

These concerns have been taken very seriously inside Canonical and there has been extensive work going on to ensure we can tend to any outstanding issues ready for the 12.10 release. It is important to remember that this is the nature of how we develop Ubuntu; we often add features that later require additional focus and work based upon feedback in the community. This is just the nature of collaborative community; our community helps us to refine and improve Ubuntu in many ways based on feedback. I want to offer a sincere thank-you to everyone who has provided constructive, frank feedback about what we need to do to improve this feature and bring it in-line with the needs and expectations of our users.

So far in this story there has been a series of concerns and actions in response to this feedback. This is summarized as:

  • Concern about the usefulness of the feature – to resolve this a toggle switch has been added to the Privacy settings dialog to disable/enable the feature.
  • Concern about the encryption of traffic – traffic is now encrypted.
  • Concern about adult content being displayed via the lens – significant changes have been made to blacklist certain results based on keywords.
  • Concern about the legal requirements of this feature under European law – a Legal Notice link has now been added to the dash to make the terms of use clear for using the dash.

In addition to this, Cristian Parrino, our VP of Online Services at Canonical, who is basically in charge of Ubuntu One, our affiliate schemes, and who is responsible for the affiliate portions of the dash (e.g. Amazon/Ubuntu One Music Store results) has provide some further responses to these concerns.

Cristian published a blog entry – be sure to take a look.

Please feel free to ask any further questions in the comments. Thanks!

  • http://twitter.com/DaveEwart Dave Ewart

    Sorry, I afraid I still don’t buy this, Jono.

    The fundamental issue is that it’s still not opt-in and, despite the use of the word ‘prominent’ when describing the presence of the Legal Notice, it is anything but prominent. It’s still possible to enter sensitive search terms without realising that they’re leaving your PC.

    As an example of how I believe this could be changed: Ubuntu should present the Legal Notice (or a variant thereof) the first time a user opens the dash, thus making it opt-in. And it should be possible to switch the feature off easily during that first-time use.

    I’m pleased that steps have been taken: encrypting traffic, etc. But, until the opt-in nature of this feature is in place, that’s Solving The Wrong Problem, in my opinion.

    I can’t help but get the impression that because there is a desire to monetise the process, there is in effect an effort to “trick” the user into using this feature in its default “on” state without investigating further. That’s not very ethical, in my opinion.

  • Jack David Baucum

    I would second this. The dash, as I understand it, is a quick way to access your “stuff” Files, folders, applications, tweets, facebook posts, emails, contacts, those are all my stuff, and being able to easily access them quickly in the dash is awesome. What Amazon sells is not my stuff, it’s not useful. Even with the best of intentions from Canonical, with no malice or bad intention with this feature, it still provides the look and feel of a company willing to place monetization above good design. By simply making it an opt-in feature that can be enabled through the settings panel all fear, gnashing of teeth, and dooms-day reports would vanish. Well, the vast majority of them at least.

  • http://ghettocottage.com Endle Winters

    I third this. When I used to work on Windows computer, usually the first thing I had to do for my client was uninstall and delete all of the third party junk that most new Windows computers came with (ever purchase a laptop from Best Buy?). Also, I have bad memories of installing applications on Windows that would install all sorts of third-party “tool-bars” and other nonesense unless you knew to choose a custom install and uncheck all of that. All those terrible tool-bars on people’s browsers, stacked up one on top of another. Amazon icons on a fresh install of Ubuntu is reminiscent of those days. I am slightly concerned that this is the beginning of trend that is not welcome as a default; however, opt-in would turn a horrid invasion into a nice feature that some people would enjoy. Opt in is the solution.

  • Anonymous

    I think that honestly This “controversy” is just spurring the Unity Human Interface(not to be confused w/ the Unity gaming interface/engine)…I knew that since the lenses were introduced in 11.04 that they had a lot of legs, but not much controllability…What I really want is a way to disable lenses that I think are really great and useful, but I don’t necessarily use everyday…What I feel Ubuntu should/(probably)will do in Ubuntu 13.04 is: 1)make the lenses easily to disable/enable while keeping them installed 2)create custom shortcuts for each and every lens(regardless if it’s disabled/enabled) **Although I am a huge fan of having the shopping results check-box w/in the installer. I am also really pleased that the NSFW issue is more/less a mute point, and SSL has been added.

  • Morgan Collett

    Another “vote” for making this opt in only. People need to know the implications of enabling it.

  • http://twitter.com/DaveEwart Dave Ewart

    Just a small point: the opt-in should be per-user, so it should be presented to each user the first time they use it, rather than be an installation option: many installations are multi-user, and some are installed by someone other than the end-user(s).

  • Anonymous

    To be clear, Dave, I am not asking you buy anything. I am just sharing the information – my goal here is not to change anyone’s opinions about whether the opt-out policy is a good or bad thing, just to ensure everyone has the correct information about where things stand today.

  • http://twitter.com/jspaleta Jef Spaleta

    Jono, I find this particular phrasing about..buying things or not.. darkly amusing..consider the subject matter at hand. I can’t help but imagine the first line of your response as spoken by HAL to Dave Bowman as a bit of tongue-in-cheek scripted dialog in a modern-day remake of 2001. A remake which leveraged product placement in HAL’s interface to offset production costs of the movie. Now I have all of HAL’s original dialog running in my head with a British accent. I hate my brain sometimes.


  • Anonymous

    I am putting myself to the fullest possible use, which is all I think that any conscious entity can ever hope to do.

  • http://twitter.com/DaveEwart Dave Ewart

    Yeah, I understand that you’re the messenger. I’m hoping that since you’re a well-respected voice both within Canonical and within the wider community, you can get the message through that there’s still strong feeling in the community against this being opt-out, partly because it is not currently clear to most users that there’s anything to opt-out of!

    Thanks, Jono :-)

  • Anonymous

    No worries, Dave. Thanks for the feedback. Rest assured, Canonical is fully aware of the pulse of feedback from our community. :-)

  • Anonymous

    you make a good point. I just built a computer for a friend w/ an Autistic child. I am glad they have LTS so I can pass this by for them, but if the feature of per-user opt-in for the shopping Amazon scope for the admin, but not the regular(child)user; then I could have installed it for them.

  • Ruben Garcia

    Great job Jono and Canonical team for moving the product forward. We understand that you have to make money in order to continue to develop the product.

  • http://www.vishnupadmanabhan.in/ Vishnu Padmanabhan

    Thanks Jono for your efforts in letting us know where things stand. Canonical has a history long enough with the community and I am sure you guys know what to do to take the product forward respecting the voice of the community. I have complete trust in your team there. I am sure many of us feel the same out here :-)

  • Andreas Wallberg

    While it is nice to see improvements in the underlying technology, I can not help thinking that this whole debacle could have been avoided if Canonical had simply introduced this as a separate Online Shopping Lens.

    My guess is that such a lens would also have better potential to attract additional companies (say Newegg or similar hardware resellers) or even meta-shopping sites (for instance those that find the best price among many shops) as backends so that there would be a real marketplace where multiple services compete for the best spot. The current implementation is simply weird.

  • chilicuil

    I can see many community members who aren’t really pleased with this feature, why not making a call for voting the idea?

  • http://profiles.google.com/vperetokin Vadim Peretokin

    Are you exactly certain that separating this into an Online Shopping Lens would have avoided this? I, for one, can certainly forsee a lot of users going ‘whaah, what a useless lens, why should it be default’.

    The Super key tap by default searches everything – and while it certainly doesn’t search the whole Internet yet, it’s not specialized as super+letter keys either, which do not have the shopping feature.

  • Mick

    What would have avoided this would have been to speak before and follow the usual process for adding changes, instead of forcing it at the last moment.

  • Anonymous

    The vote will be on release of 12.10. No revenue will come from the dash since no one is looking for something to buy there. Amazon results are the least likely answer to my needs regardless of what I enter in the dash. This feature will be ignored, disabled and uninstalled because it is irrelevant and merely gets in the way of productivity.

  • Lucas Betschart

    The biggest problem for me is the first impression to new users. Seeing Amazon search-result looks for them like the ad-ware installed on Windows (Browser-Toolbar etc.). Our LoCo is going to have a talk about Ubuntu 12.10 on a techi and business event and I will share the reactions about the Amazon-Search with you. I fear they won’t be positive.

  • Jay Lane


    Thanks for keeping cool during this whole thing. I respect you for this. It must of been a crazy week for you. I have to admit that I blew a gasket when the Amazon thing came in. Porridge and coffee never mix well with my work desktop when spat out 😉 Seriously though, I kind of ranted in a few places and am calmer now. I’ve appreciated some of the changes you guys have made.

    You know this whole thing is a reflection of how passionately we all feel about Ubuntu and the community. Ubuntu and what it stands for is part of what we have committed to, not just some OS or distro. I’m really happy with the donate page regardless of people moaning about the semantics. Once I’ve sold my other lappy I’m going to donate. I have no issue with this at all. I’ve been on Ubuntu since 6.06, so your welcome to my cash.

    I like many people however was very disappointed with the inclusion of Amazon search results in the ‘Home Dash’. I have disabled it. This also means that I do not get results from other lenses that use online search. Which is sad. You see I have no issue with you collecting data or my IP if I choose to give it you through a service you provide. I’ll reiterate what I’ve said before, a separate ‘Amazon’ lens would be cool. I’d choose to use it because I wanted to, for a specific product search. In fact you’ve kind of lost out, because by disabling Amazon search through the Home Dash I’ll just go to Amazon itself and search for what I want.

    So now I don’t seemingly have any option to search for online content via any lens. This is a sacrifice I’m willing to make for peace of mind and my privacy. I understand why you’ve made this opt-out, probably because 80% of people would opt-out if you made it opt-in. Leaving it the way you have guarantees you a greater chance of income. Simple. It’s a business decision.

    So though I’m not very important in the Ubuntu grand scheme of things, I guess collectively we are. Time will tell if there’s a shift in your user demographic. Perhaps many people are cool with this whole thing. Perhaps new Ubuntu users will likewise think it’s a cool feature.

    I guess The Fonz was cool. When he jumped the shark, in many peoples opinion he wasn’t anymore. Jumping one or two sharks is okay. Jumping a dozen is a na-dah.

    jump the shark

    a term to describe a moment when something that was once great has reached a point where it will now decline in quality and popularity.

    Origin of this phrase comes from a Happy Days episode where the Fonz jumped a shark on waterskis. Thus was labeled the lowest point of the show.

    If changing your demographic is your goal I wish you every success. I guess time will tell.

  • http://profiles.google.com/vperetokin Vadim Peretokin

    Certainly true.

  • Russell

    It looks for them like adware because it IS adware. And spyware. What a complete joke. Uninstalling Ubuntu very soon.

  • Auragzaib

    I live in Pakistan, amazon isn’t supported here but still ubuntu shows me the results from amazon.

    Being ubuntu full-time user. I think, these are the tiny things which cause the people outside our dev community to be left annoyed.

    ubuntu has 200% potential to compete with any os on the planet. only if cannonical just polish the core of ubuntu core, i mean for e.g. printers, wifi modules etc “must” work out of box b/c layman just cares about these things

  • mattisan

    The toggle switch to disable the ads/suggestions does not work as expected: When you select “Search Applications” lens from Dash, you still get “More Suggestions” displayed. Whether they are fetched from external source or they already reside in the “Ubuntu Software Center” is immaterial. You are distracting my attention from task at hand. Would you buy a fridge that serves ads to food stores before allowing you to take out the milk jug or put it back in the fridge? Please fix it.