Canonical adds a 'kill switch' for Ubuntu's Amazon search

The new integration of Amazon search results in Ubuntu Linux 12.10 has stirred up quite a hornet's nest of controversy over the past week or so among observers unimpressed by Canonical founder Mark Shuttleworth's calm assurances that users' privacy would be maintained.

According to two separate investigations over the past few days, in fact, Shuttleworth's explanation was not entirely correct, and users' information might be more exposed to Amazon servers than they might realize.

Ubuntu community manager Jono Bacon followed up on Tuesday with news that searches will be encrypted, but today he also announced that Canonical is working on a kill switch for the Amazon search results feature.

Revenue for Canonical

For those who missed the original story, Ubuntu Linux 12.10 “Quantal Quetzal”--a second beta version of which is due today--now integrates Amazon results into searches conducted through the Unity desktop Dash.

So, search for “taxes” from there and your results will include not only local files on your computer but also tax-related items for sale on Amazon. Canonical, in turn, will receive a small portion of any sales generated on Amazon this way through affiliate fees.

Any such fees would be used to help support the Ubuntu project, Bacon explained on Sunday, but many users were quick to decry the new feature as “adware,” causing the scramble at Canonical over the past few days to fix the situation.

'A toggle switch in the settings'

“You will be able to disable the feature if you wish,” Bacon wrote in a new blog post on Thursday. “There is work going on to have a toggle switch in the settings to disable it.”

Jono Bacon
A new toggle switch in Ubuntu12.10 will let users disable all online searches (Click image to enlarge.)

The toggle switch is depicted (in French) in the screenshot at left.

One important caveat, however, is that the toggle switch will affect all online searches, not just those on Amazon, Bacon noted. So, users who want to disable the Amazon results will also have to disable online search across the board, including applications such as microblogging client Gwibber.

Between encryption and the new kill switch, do you think Canonical's solution adequately addresses the initial concerns? Please sound off in the comments.

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