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Why is (was) there so much fuss about it?

Why is it under the 'Canonical Partners' section in the Software Center?

Should I install it?

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2 Answers

up vote 9 down vote accepted

What is the 'canonical-census' package?

It's for counting the number of installs of Ubuntu in the wild, put there by OEMs. OEMs (in this case) are companies selling computers with Ubuntu pre-installed. Like Dell, System76, etc.

It connects to a Canonical server on a daily basis and tells it the following:

  • How many times it has connected in the past (/var/lib/send-install-count/counter)
  • The OEM's ID (stored in /var/lib/ubuntu_dist_channel)
  • The hardware product (/sys/class/dmi/id/product_name)
  • Which release of Ubuntu it's using (/etc/lsb-release's $DISTRIB_RELEASE)

Implicitly it also tells Canonical which IP the computer is using and from that they could work out the country, sometimes company it's being used from. If they're doing this is another question.

Why is (was) there so much fuss about it?

Some people see this as an attempt to track users. In a way it does. But how much of that information is helpful to actually work out who a user is?

Well I'm a cynic. With the IP, Canonical could look at the other services they provide (Ubuntu One, Launchpad, etc). If the users uses another service, they could perhaps work out who has done business with Dell (et al)...

But even cynical as I am, what does that really give them? Not much. Its only real value is working out how many OEM computers are get used with their default install of Ubuntu.

I'm not going to get bogged down in the paranoia of some people but it's fair to say, all but the most cut-off hermits give out more personal, traceable and potentially harmful data to much bigger and uglier companies on a daily basis.

Why is it under the 'Canonical Partners' section in the Software Center?

I don't know.

It doesn't really matter where it sits but the partner repo is as good as any other place, I guess. It's open source but it's not really something for all users.

Should I install it?

No. You could but it won't do anything meaningful unless you bought the machine with that copy of Ubuntu pre-installed by a Canonical-registered OEM.

This is because it checks for the existence of /var/lib/ubuntu_dist_channel before submitting any data. Normal installs won't have this file.

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You probably should not install this.

It is safe, and has a rather simple purpose.

The canonical-census package is meant to help them determine the number of installations on OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) systems.

From what I have read about it, it may be used in the future to provide statistics to the community, but as of Maverick this has not been finalized (to my knowledge).

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1  
What does OEM mean? –  Agmenor Nov 22 '10 at 1:11
4  
Original Equipment Manufacturer. –  RolandiXor Nov 22 '10 at 1:13
2  
If you for instance buy a laptop with a pre-installed operating system, that's an OEM install of that operating system. –  Nicke Nov 22 '10 at 8:11
    
Installing it would not throw off any statistics. See the final two paragraphs of my answer. –  Oli May 31 '11 at 21:26
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