Canonical wants to shill for Amazon on Ubuntu users' desktops

Company insists that adding Amazon product listings to desktop search results is secure -- and certainly not a form of advertising

Say you're performing a local search on your computer for the word "Thompson" to locate documents about one of your clients. The last thing you likely want or need alongside the list of relevant files is a list of random products available on Amazon (as well as music in the Ubuntu One Music Store) that happen to include the search term. Yet that hasn't stopped Canonical, maker of the popular Ubuntu, from desperately defending its plan to add that very "feature" to the forthcoming Ubuntu 12.10, dubbed "Quantal Quetzal."

"It makes perfect sense to integrate Amazon search results in the Dash, because the Home lens of the Dash should let you find anything anywhere," wrote Ubuntu founder Mark Shuttleworth in a blog post defending the practice. "In 12.10 we'll take the first step of looking both online and locally for possible results. The Home lens will show you local things like apps and music, as it always has, as well as results from Amazon."

Anyone who downloads Ubuntu 12.10 will find that this expanded search feature is pre-activated. Canonical is leaving it to users to take necessary steps to keep Dash from retrieving Amazon product listings. They do have options in that regard, Shuttleworth noted: Instead of using Dash's Home lens, which searches everything, users can use hotkeys to limit the search scope, e.g. Super-A for apps or Super-F for files.

Over time, Canonical will incorporate search results from other services, according to Shuttleworth. "There are many more kinds of things you can search through with Unity scopes. Most of them won't pay Ubuntu a cent, but we'll still integrate them into the coolest just-ask-and-you'll-receive experience," he wrote. "I want us to do this because I think we can make the desktop better."

Canonical execs have leapt into action to defend the new feature in the wake of user backlash. Complaints have ranged from "I don't want ads on my desktop" to "I don't want Amazon to know what I'm searching for on my own computer" to "Why do we have to opt out of this, rather than having the option to opt-in?"

First and foremost, according to Canonical, these Amazon listings aren't even ads; they're just additional search results. "We don't promote any product or service speculatively, these are not banners or spyware. These are results from underlying scopes, surfaced to the Home lens, because you didn't narrow the scope to a specific, well, scope," wrote Shuttleworth.

Though Canonical doesn't view these listing as ads, the company acknowledged that it stands to profit from the listings. "It is no secret that for each product sold (not searched) from Amazon or the Ubuntu One Music Store, Canonical takes a small cut," wrote Jono Bacon, Ubuntu Community Manager, in his own blog. "This affiliate revenue is a useful way in which we can generate revenue that we can continue to invest into the Ubuntu project to build new features, maintain our infrastructure, and improve Ubuntu."

Several respondents said they didn't begrudge Canonical seeking to generate revenue for its open-source project. "The problem isn't Canonical making some money. That's a very important and difficult goal (Speak with Bryam Lunduke from the Linux Action show about this). The problem is that nobody wants [expletive] advertising when trying to find a file or a program to finish his job," wrote user benjamimgois in response to Bacon's post.

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