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Richard Matthew Stallman has called Ubuntu "Spyware".

Does the program called Zeitgeist spy? How can I disable it? What type of data does Zeitgeist send out?

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This is a bad question, because it confuses two things: the Amazon "more suggestions" box in the dash, and Zeitgeist. Stallman has never complained about Zeitgeist, and I would be very surprised if he did. –  Flimm Dec 9 '12 at 15:11
    
In that case, it would have been better to delete the question about Zeitgeist, as it has nothing to do with Stallman's words. Oh well, there are too many answers to change the question significantly now. –  Flimm Dec 9 '12 at 21:40
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This isn't an answerable question. It's better suited to a forum. –  Kevin Peterson Apr 23 '13 at 19:18
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This has a good fact-based answer that answers the question that was asked.. (Actually, it has two.) I do agree the title suggests an attempt to garner opinions. I don't see a good reason to close this now but maybe someone can come up with a better title. (The question has already been improved by a title change, maybe another can make it even better. I'll leave that task to someone who is actually bothered by the subjective appearance of this question ...unless I think of a really good title myself. :) –  Eliah Kagan Jul 17 '13 at 23:59
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6 Answers

up vote 12 down vote accepted

First of all, zeitgeist logs your activity using various sources on your computer to enable searching for recent documents, programs and activities. This is "spying" only for a very broad definition of "spying", and the data it gathers is never sent over the network.

Secondly, RMS refers to the "shopping" results in the dash, which have little to do with zeitgeist. This feature has been controversial, mainly because it's on by default, and because it operates from the "home" lens instead of from a dedicated lens - so one is always sending local search queries over the network when using the dash.

So if you have privacy concerns:

  • To disable online results entirely in the dash, open the system menu (power-cog icon on the panel) > System Settings... > Privacy > Search results tab, and toggle the "Include online search results" switch to the OFF position.
  • To only disable the Amazon results, you can uninstall the lens by opening a terminal and typing sudo apt-get remove unity-lens-shopping. You will need to log out and back in for this to take effect.
  • To effectively move the Amazon results to a separate lens, you can install an alternative implementation of the shopping lens by opening a terminal and typing sudo apt-add-repository ppa:markjtully/ppa, followed by sudo apt-get update && sudo apt-get install unity-lens-shopping-alternate, followed by sudo apt-get remove unity-lens-shopping. You will need to log out and back in for this to take effect.
  • To disable zeitgeist, open the system menu (power-cog icon on the panel) > System Settings... > Privacy, and toggle the "Record activity" switch at the bottom of the window to the OFF position.
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Regardless of whether it's intended for local use, the info it gathers could be a high-value target. It has no utility that I can see, but would be of great use to someone implementing spyware within Ubuntu. I prefer uninstalling it over simply disabling it. You're better off without it.

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I was never asked for confirmation, or even was notified, of the fact that Zeitgeist daemon will collect all my activity on the system, when I installed Ubuntu (12.04 in my case). There was also no frontend application installed on my system, so Zeitgeist daemon clearly collected that information not for my own consumption. That pretty much is the definition of spyware, so I share the concern of the question poster.

"Data it gathers is never sent over the network" is only a hypothesis. There's HUGE gap between not collecting users' activity without their consent, and doing that without consent and behind their backs, and once that gap is crossed, it's only small next step to also use and forward that data without users' consent. Quoted article from Richard Stallman is the proof that every user of Zeitgeist should be well aware and concerned regarding their private data.

Answering the original question posted, to remove Zeitgeist, run:

sudo apt-get remove zeitgeist zeitgeist-core zeitgeist-datahub

(Taken from http://martesmartes.blogspot.com/2012/06/even-nicer-little-improvement-in-linux.html)

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Zeitgeist is only for local use. If your computer is used by others with a common login, I can see how this would be bothersome. I see it as just another log file, since nobody uses my computer but me. –  Marc Jul 17 '13 at 22:18
    
If your (or somebody else's) computer is with a common login, if a computer is lost or stolen, if you live in totalitarian or criminal country, or just crossed the road of government or big corporation or mafia, if OS provider changed their policy and Zeitgeist is no longer for local use, if vulnerability is found making clear that Zeitgeist always allowed non-local use, if, if, if... –  pfalcon Jul 18 '13 at 9:42
    
Yeah, and space aliens, too. I run off an encrypted hard disk. I'm not so worried about loss, theft or the like. If Canonical decides to share Zeitgeist results over the web, I'll deal with that then. Of course, someone could install a hardware key-logger, but there's no defense against that. –  Marc Jul 18 '13 at 16:27
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RMS has made several accounts against amazon, making privacy claims. Its not the matter of privacy its his biased against amazon. Other wise why would he not go against ads and search engines in general, because he commonly depends on his message getting out there even through means of ads & search engines. Yes it does take your search results much like anything does when you search, there is only a few search engines that don't sell your search results, and many claim not to but do. http://yro.slashdot.org/story/00/03/12/0917223/rms-writes-to-tim-oreilly-about-amazon

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Other way to disable Zeitgeist is to type "Privacy" on dash, and turn off the "log of activities" on the inferior button.

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The component with which RMS is unhappy is the fact that the Unity dash makes requests to Amazon (via Canonical servers, AFAIK) in order to show requests. This may be a useful feature to some, but doubtless was also considered by Canonical as a revenue source, since they will get affiliate income when you buy anything through this mechanism. Use of web requests in the Unity dash can be easily disabled (although it may be reasonably asked why upon first boot you don't get a dialog box asking you if you want to turn it on, rather than it being on by default as it currently is).

Zeitgeist is a daemon which records actions in a number of GNOME programs, which in theory provides more useful information in the dash in terms of recently used applications. This can result in local information leakage (don't want other computer users (using the same account) to see the pictures or video you've been viewing recently?), but it does not broadcast this information anywhere, so I think describing this as spyware is unreasonable. This can also be disabled.

Whether you trust Canonical (or Amazon) with your data is up to you.

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