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Canonical starts tracking Ubuntu installations via Canonical Census package

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If you open Synaptic Package Manager in your Ubuntu installation (via System > Administration > Synaptic Package Manager), and look for “canonical-census”, you may find a new spy or tracking software package. Uploaded very recently to Lucid’s 10.04 repositories, it will be also present in Maverick’s 10.10.

According to the description in Synaptic:

send “I am alive” ping to Canonical

This package installs a daily cron job for surveying how many original OEM installs are running in the world. Note that this does not send any user specific data; it only transmits the operating system version (/var/lib/ubuntu_dist_channel), the machine product name, and a counter how many pings were sent.

The software is for tracking Ubuntu installations by sending an “I am alive” ping to Canonical on a daily basis. If you install  the canonical-census package, the program is added to the daily Cron jobs and executed. Using HTTP, it will report each day to Canonical the number of times your system previously contacted Canonical. The counter is stored locally in your computer. Since it runs on a daily basis, it’s implicitly indicating how many days the Ubuntu installation has been active. It also transmits the Ubuntu distributor channel, the product name read from the system’s DMI information, and the Ubuntu version installed.

If you want to inspect what the canonical-census does, just check the package here. As far as we know, Canonical did not perform any kind of tracking over Ubuntu before. Apparently, Canonical is just interested in tracking the users of OEM installations, that is PCs that are shipped with Ubuntu as the operating system. It is probable that you have this package installed by default if you own a computer from ZaReason, System76 and Dell.

Of course Canonical needs this information see whether customers are keeping the Ubuntu OEM default installation (usually outdated) or just reinstalling something else. Just reviewing the code in the file send-census (a bash script) in the package, the information submitted is the following:

  • Number of calls (days) => /var/lib/send-install-count/counter
  • Distribution Channel => /var/lib/ubuntu_dist_channel –> this file is currently non-existent
  • Ubuntu version => /etc/lsb-release
  • Computer Product Name => /sys/class/dmi/id/product_name

The URL called is:

http://census.canonical.com/submit?count=count&dcd=dist_channel&product=dmi_product_name&release=ubuntu_release_version

The file census (a python script) does collect much more information. It reads in Canonical Apache’s access log file and creates an SQLite database from the contents of the log file.

Our recommendation: after reading this news item, just remove this piece of Microsoft-like spy, distributed as an anonymous data gathering process.

The simple steps to definitely remove this spy are:

  • Open a “Run Application” window typing ALT-F2
  • Just type the following statement and press ENTER:

sudo apt-get remove canonical-census

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