1

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?

4
  • 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
    Commented Dec 9, 2012 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
    Commented Dec 9, 2012 at 21:40
  • 1
    This isn't an answerable question. It's better suited to a forum. Commented Apr 23, 2013 at 19:18
  • 2
    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. :) Commented Jul 17, 2013 at 23:59

6 Answers 6

12

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.
6

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.

2

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

2

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)

5
  • 1
    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
    Commented Jul 17, 2013 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
    Commented Jul 18, 2013 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
    Commented Jul 18, 2013 at 16:27
  • 1
    Zeitgeist is extremely unnecessary and should be removed - it is what says it is a DATA LOGGER. You don't need or use the data it collects so get rid of it. If you want to see what kind of data it's collecting, get sqlitebrowser (sudo apt-get install sqlitebrowser) and open the activity.sqlite database in ~/.local/share/zeitgeist (<<-- note, its in "share"). Then execute the following query: SELECT t.value, datetime(e.timestamp/1000, 'unixepoch') as timestamp, u.value as subj_uri FROM uri u, text t, event e where t.id = e.subj_text and u.id=e.subj_id order by e.timestamp desc
    – Adam D.
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 4:52
  • Also all programs that are zeitgeist "friendly", are suspect and should probably be removed if you don't need them (try not to, e.g. rhythmbox is not "needed").
    – Adam D.
    Commented Sep 25, 2017 at 4:54
2

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.

1

Zeitgeist has 526MB of "activity" logged on me, including the URLs of downloads that I made in Chrome incognito mode and/or from the command-line, stuff that I've copy-pasted and I thought I had cleared, web searches (perhaps copy pasted), command line stuff that I had deliberately excluded from by bash history, torrent URLs I've downloaded, and at least three of my main passwords including my main server password, in the clear.

It turns out that the Clipit aka Diodon applet which I installed, thinking that it could be useful, logs everything I ever copy-pasted into to Zeitgeist, and it remains in Zeitgeist even after I "clear" the history in Diodon. I suppose that Zeitgeist and Diodon were created with good intentions, but this is very user-hostile in my opinion. I don't expect some random Gnome daemon that I didn't even intend to install to collude with a clipboard manager to log half a gigabyte of personal stuff in the clear, much of which I was actively trying to avoid logging, without asking me or letting me know. It is not at all apparent that this is happening from the UI of the clipboard manager.

The Diodon package description says:

Description-en: GTK+ Clipboard manager
 Diodon is a lightweight clipboard manager for Linux written in Vala which
 "aims to be the best integrated clipboard manager for the Gnome/Unity desktop".
 .
 Diodon features include Ubuntu indicator, clipboard sync (primary selection
 and Ctrl+C / Ctrl+V clipboard) and a zeitgeist integration for an infinite
 clipboard history.

I think it's the "zeitgeist integration for an infinite clipboard history" that is biting me here.

If you use Clipit aka Diodon, or to check what else Zeitgeist might have on you, try these commands for starters:

cd ~/.local/share/zeitgeist
sqlite3 activity.sqlite
select * from text where value like '%pass%' and length(value) < 1000; -- put a bit of one of your passwords between %s in the query
select * from text where value like '%porn%' and length(value) < 1000; -- smut
select * from text where (value like '%mp4' or value like '%jpg' or value like '%torrent') and length(value) < 1000; -- media / smut / torrents
select * from text where length(value) > 1000;  -- large copy/paste or files

The sqlite3 program also logs what we enter, so you might want to shred -u ~/.sqlite_history if you enter passwords in an sqlite query.

If an enemy got a hold of my activity.sqlite file, they could potentially do me considerable damage:

  1. They could hack my servers, the passwords are in there.
  2. They could embarrass me by publishing my web-surfing habits.
  3. They could attempt to get me in trouble with copyright holders of torrents I've downloaded.
  4. They could blackmail me regarding any of the above.

I'm blaming Diodon for this more than Zeitgeist, but I'll be removing both.

I reported some bugs around this issue:

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .