Canonical Begins Tracking Ubuntu Installations

Just uploaded to the Ubuntu Lucid repository for Ubuntu 10.04 LTS (and we imagine it will appear shortly in Maverick too for Ubuntu 10.10) is a new package called canonical-census, which marks its initial release. Curious about what this package provides, we did some digging and found it's for tracking Ubuntu installations by sending an "I am alive" ping to Canonical on a daily basis.
The canonical-census v0.1 description is simply "canonical-census -- send "I am alive" ping to Canonical." When looking at the Debian package source to this Python program, "Send an "I am alive" ping to Canonical. This is used for surveying how many original OEM installs are still existing on real machines. Note that this does not send any user specific data; it only transmits the operating system version (/var/lib/ubuntu_dist_channel), the machine product name, and a counter how many pings were sent."

When the canonical-census package is installed, the program is to be added to the daily Cron jobs to be executed so that each day it will report to Canonical over HTTP the number of times this system previously sent to Canonical (this counter is stored locally and with it running on a daily basis it's thereby indicating how many days the Ubuntu installation has been active), the Ubuntu distributor channel, the product name as acquired by the system's DMI information, and which Ubuntu release is being used. That's all that canonical-census does, at least for now. Previously there haven't been such Ubuntu tracking measures attempted by Canonical.

The good news for those concerned about privacy is that it appears for now Canonical is just interested in tracking the users of OEM installations --- those PCs that ship with Ubuntu by default such as from ZaReason, System76, and Dell. This information will obviously be valuable to both companies to see whether customers are keeping around their Ubuntu installations or just wiping them and just how often Ubuntu is being used on these systems (judging by the number of times that system reported to Canonical's server previously). For those not wanting to participate in this anonymous data gathering process, they could always sudo apt-get remove canonical-census

The Canonical Census package can be found on Launchpad.net for those interested.

Source from here

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4 thoughts on “Canonical Begins Tracking Ubuntu Installations

  1. First:
    This app will not be installed as default in any nonOEM version of Ubuntu.
    Secound:
    It will not work in any nonOEM version as it depends of OEM files.

    Third:
    If you wish to be tracked anyway type:
    sudo gedit /var/lib/ubuntu_dist_channel
    and then type:
    Count Me Too!!!

    [Reply]

  2. Hmm.. Am I the only disturbed by this?

    Even with the aforementioned limits (oem only, only sends ‘i am alive’) its still not good practice to install spyware. And yes, installing software for the purpose of tracking, even with good intentions is spyware unless you explicitly inform the user.

    Lets say I buy a laptop with ubuntu, and use it at home, at a friends house, at various hotspots. When that ‘I am alive’ packet goes out, its creating a tracking history of where I go. Even though they may not be logging it, the source ip information is inherently included, and therefore the general location at least.

    Not cool. Take it out.

    [Reply]

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