The Ubuntu Amazon ‘Privacy’ Issue

There’s been a lot of talk about a recent feature to Ubuntu 12.10 – when you type into the Dash you receive back information from Amazon based on your input. There’s a massive outcry that this is a privacy violation or even a security issue, and the media’s been fueling it as much as they can. I’m going to try to explain what’s going on here and where the issues actually lie.

How It Works

The feature activates when you type messages into the Dash – a feature of Unity that takes in your text input and outputs relevant information. When you type into your Dash info is sent to Canonical and then Canonical sends the info to Amazon, the information is then sent back to Canonical form Amazon and finally lands on your system. What is sent is only what you type in, nothing more.

The idea here is that I can type in “Vacuum” and now I get books on vacuum cleaners or some such thing. The Dash is meant to be a ‘conduit’ of information, you type a word and it responds with everything related to that word. Amazon is just one more way to provide information to you.

The Problem?

Users seem to think this is a privacy issue. I think people hear “OMG Ubuntu has Amazon ads now! And it can see what you type!” – no. No, Amazon can not see what you type and they’re not ads. They can see the words you put into the Dash and Canonical acts as a proxy, so really, it’s Canonical that “sees” what you’ve typed into the Dash.

So this isn’t some full system keylogger or some such thing, it’s Canonical (the company behind Ubuntu, that packages your system components for you) seeing what you type into the Dash.

So ask yourself – what do I type in the Dash? For me it’s simple – I would type “Pidgin”, “Chrome”, “Homework” and open those files/ programs via Dash. Not exactly personal information.

Unless you’re typing in “porn” or your social security number perhaps you should question how sensitive the information in your Dash really is. Really, what is it that you enter that’s scary?

And then remember that Canonical doesn’t need some clever Dash keylogger to steal your information… they’ve “got root” as Mark Shuttleworth put it. If you don’t trust Canonical you shouldn’t be using their Operating System because they could easily patch up a kernel to spy on you or any other system component that they build on your behalf.

I’ve heard people claim “But what if someone accidentally puts a password in?” well, uh, yeah, that sucks! Canonical then sees your password… not that they need it since, again, they have root. And all of this information is sent to Canonical via secure encrypted connection.

Even beyond all of this users seem to have missed that it’s always been this way. Yes, your Dash has always communicated via internet – how do you think it gets ‘recommended apps’ from the software center? Or music? It’s done this for a long long time and nothing has changed.

And, of course, you can easily disable this by typing “Privacy” into the Dash and disabling the feature.

It comes down to a simple question – do you trust Canonical?

Formally Introducing Chromebox – ChromeOS For The Desktop

Chromebox is the new desktop system by Google and Samsung that comes packaged with ChromeOS.

Let’s Talk About ChromeOS First

ChromeOS has been a widely misunderstood Operating System that’s been trivialized as a “toy” OS. I have to disagree – while ChromeOS may feel limiting its goals are admirable: provide a fast and secure device for users to browse the web on. And I must say it truly accomplishes that – even on my CR48 sporting a single core ATOM CPU I manage to do quite a bit with ChromeOS.

Is ChromeOS for the developer who custom compiles his own kernel and needs to boot into Windows to play games and yada yada yada? No, definitely not. ChromeOS is designed and targeted for specific users who simply want to get online. And the fact is that’s most of us. 90% of what I do is done in the browser and a very large chunk of the remaining 10% could easily be moved to the browser if I were motivated to do so.

So ChromeOS is definitely not the OS for everyone but before you dismiss it take a look at some “average user” you know and think about their usage habits. How limiting would ChromeOS really be for them?

Still, it remains to be seen whether or not ChromeOS is truly ready for mainstream adoption. This latest revision was a large overhaul, it’s hard to predict the future.

Chromebox – The Specs

  • Intel® Core™ 2 Celeron B840 processor
  • 16GB Solid State Drive
  • 4 GB RAM
  • Built-in dual-band WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n
  • Gigabit ethernet
  • 6 USB 2.0 ports
  • 2x DisplayPort++ Output (compatible with HDMI, DVI, VGA)
  • DVI-I single link output (compatible with VGA)
  • Bluetooth 3.0™ compatible
  • Kensington™ key lock compatible

It’s no monster by any means. You won’t be playing Crysis on this thing. But 4GB of RAM, a SSD, and a pretty nice dual core CPU is more than enough for browsing. I mean, seriously, 4GB of RAM is actually a ton considering. And that dual core will handle 720p Flash very well, hell it’ll even play 1080p video. ChromeOS is also one of the few Linux based operating systems that is supported by Netflix and the hardware looks absolutely fine for that.

Chromebox – The Look

The hardware is small. It feels very HTPC to me. Sleek and minimalist – very in keeping with ChromeOS.

Image

The new ChromeOS 19 UI is a far stretch from the previous UI. It’s far more conventional and, of course, that means it’s more comfortable for your home user. The new ChromeOS UI contains a taskbar, launcher, and the ability to detach and move tabs/ windows.

Image

So What Can I Do With This Thing?

ChromeOS has come a long way. It’s got a built in media player, offline Docs editing, offline Gmail, and, of course, access to all of Google’s cloud-based services such as Google Music.

Anything you can do in Chrome you can do in ChromeOS. And that’s a surprising amount.

So What Can’t I Do With This Thing?

The Chromebox comes with a mere 16GB HDD. This isn’t a storage device, you’re not going to keep your thousand photos and videos on it. But, that’s not really the idea. The idea is to keep your data online via Google Drive and the Chromebox simply acts as a conduit to those services. Maybe that’s not your thing.

Is ChromeOS For Me?

Honestly, there is no single operating system for every user. But if you find yourself spending all of your time in the browser and you’re looking for a system that’s going to get you online instantly in a secure manner, yeah, I’d say you should go pick up a Chromebox.

And Then There’s Price

The Chromebox lands at $329.99 from Amazon. A quick search on Amazon for “desktop” between 300-350 shows me computers with similar specs (but includes other hardware) for virtually the same price. This is nice to see, one of the largest complains for the Chromebooks was that the price was too high.

A lot of people feel that they’re getting a “lesser” OS, that it’s less capable and therefor worth less money. I disagree. As of ChromeOS 19 I think it is very easy to call it a fully featured operating system.

The price seems fair but I’m inexperienced as I’ve never purchased a desktop. Perhaps a bit high as it doesn’t come with peripherals.

Conclusion

It only seems right to wrap this up. I think Chromebox is pretty cool and I know a few people that could definitely benefit from a secure system like it.

What Google needs to focus on is getting Docs up to speed so that it’s a real competitor to Word. Getting NativeClient to be more mainstream would be a huge boon to ChromeOS as well. And I, personally, would love to see a proper (free) Cloud IDE that would allow remote storage through Google Drive or Dropbox.

I predict Chromebox will not do too well. It’ll see a quick spurt of people buying it up but, unfortunately, there isn’t enough appreciation for the niche product nor is there the willingness to even try to adapt.

What The Hell Is A Chromebox And Why Do I Want One So Badly?

Google and Samsung have unveiled their latest joint project: The Chromebox. Let me start off by saying that this post is entirely premature as I have virtually no clue what this thing is. But I love ChromeOS and that thing is just attractive.

Image

But, really, what’s actually inside it?

Well according to Google it’s:

  • Intel® Core™ processor
  • 4 GB RAM
  • Built-in dual-band WiFi 802.11 a/b/g/n
  • Gigabit ethernet
  • 6 USB 2.0 ports
  • 2x DisplayPort++ Output (compatible with HDMI, DVI, VGA)
  • DVI-I single link output (compatible with VGA)
  • Bluetooth 3.0™ compatible
  • Kensington™ key lock compatible

Be more vague Google. Alright, I’ll check out the Amazon page for some details on the CPU.

1.9 GHz Intel Celeron dual-core processor

Well, I guess that’s not too bad. For a budget system made for average users who want to do nothing but browser the internet I don’t think anything fancy is necessary, a modern dual core 1.9ghz is gonna handle 720p (or 1080) Flash with no problem and that’s the heaviest thing someone’ll run (or I guess Netflix.)

So it seems like this is a desktop system in a box.