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Fedora considering adding in 'privacy-preserving' telemetry

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Quite a controversial topic currently floating around is that a change proposal has been made for Fedora Workstation 40 to have some "privacy-preserving" telemetry to "enable limited data collection of anonymous Fedora Workstation usage metrics".

This has generated quite the buzz across pretty much everywhere I look, with many people on both sides jumping in to argue about it. One thing to remember though, is that this is a proposal, nothing has been set in stone and the whole idea could be scrapped or changed a lot as discussions go on.

In summary:

Fedora is an open source community project, and nobody is interested in violating user privacy. We do not want to collect data about individual users. We want to collect only aggregate usage metrics that are actually needed to achieve specific Fedora improvement objectives, and no more. We understand that if we violate our users’ trust, then we won’t have many users left, so if metrics collection is approved, we will need to be very careful to roll this out in a way that respects our users at all times. (For example, we should not collect users’ search queries, because that would be creepy.).

We believe an open source community can ethically collect limited aggregate data on how its software is used without involving big data companies or building creepy tracking profiles that are not in the best interests of users. Users will have the option to disable data upload before any data is sent for the first time. Our service will be operated by Fedora on Fedora infrastructure, and will not depend on Google Analytics or any other controversial third-party services. And in contrast to proprietary software operating systems, you can redirect the data collection to your own private metrics server instead of Fedora’s to see precisely what data is being collected from you, because the server components are open source too.

As for what they might actually be collecting there's all sorts but they're not yet being exactly clear on what, because approval for it hasn't happened as it's early days for the proposal. If they do get approval, it seems then they will work out a clear idea of what to collect. They did suggest some of it may be things like what IDEs are popular, the click-through rate of recommended banners in GNOME Software, what panels are most used in gnome-control-center, what type of hard drive you have, count how many users use a particular locale so they can optimize language support and so on.

Telemetry is not actually a bad thing but the way it has been used in the past is what gives it a bad name. Some companies absolutely abused data collection in the past, and plenty still do. There are ways to do it properly though which they seem to be trying to do by fully informing people here.

What's a little confusing though is their part about opt-in versus opt-out. The way it has been explained could have been better. It seems they want to go for opt-out, with it turned on to collect the data by default but not actually upload anything until you've gone through a privacy page when installing Fedora to confirm it. Disabling it will then send them nothing but it will still collect it locally ready for if you turn it on later. For existing users upgrading, it will be opt-in though, as they don't currently have a mechanism for getting user consent through upgrades. This opt-in / opt-out also has it's own discussion area since it's a big thing.

How do you feel about this idea? Let me know in the comments.

Article taken from GamingOnLinux.com.
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I am the owner of GamingOnLinux. After discovering Linux back in the days of Mandrake in 2003, I constantly came back to check on the progress of Linux until Ubuntu appeared on the scene and it helped me to really love it. You can reach me easily by emailing GamingOnLinux directly. Find me on Mastodon.
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58 comments
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PublicNuisance Jul 8, 2023
My thoughts would be that if it's opt out instead of opt in by default then it's a terible idea. Also saying "privacy preserving telemetry" is an oxymoron to me. If you are giving up any data then it is not preserving your privacy.
Raaben Jul 8, 2023
I've been using Fedora for a decade, currently on OpenSUSE after I broke something horribly (long story), and keep thinking about going back but things like this make me a bit hesitant now. It's not bad over here and if this is the direction they want to head esp. opt out vs opt in, I might just get comfy where I am. "Privacy-preserving telemetry" made me sigh out loud.
dziadulewicz Jul 8, 2023
This is how it always starts. IBM has never been a Linux company, they have shady past in the 30's 40's Germany and Red Hat is but a name now from what it used to be.

There are plenty of alternatives out there.
PublicNuisance Jul 8, 2023
Quoting: dziadulewiczThis is how it always starts. IBM has never been a Linux company, they have shady past in the 30's 40's Germany and Red Hat is but a name now from what it used to be.

There are plenty of alternatives out there.

Exactly. Many people always complain about how many different Linux distros are out there but this is the time when that becomes a huge positive. Try something else.
Steven Jul 8, 2023
I test Fedora from time to time hoping to find it functional for my use. Now, I will not consider it. If you need to improve your product, get your customers talking and sharing.
Grogan Jul 8, 2023
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Quoting: PublicNuisanceMy thoughts would be that if it's opt out instead of opt in by default then it's a terible idea. Also saying "privacy preserving telemetry" is an oxymoron to me. If you are giving up any data then it is not preserving your privacy.

My goodness, it's a trend these days, isn't it. Words mean things... gaslighting buzzwords and phrases piss me off.
eldaking Jul 8, 2023
I believe that the only way to obtain data ethically from software is to not automate it. Users should always be aware and explicitly choose what they share. Thus, if you want usage data, make it as easy and convenient as possible for people to go and answer a survey or post their reports, and encourage them (the simple goodwill of FOSS users posting bug reports and contributing solutions is a great example or "encouragement"). Anything the user can't measure and understand himself should not be shared, as they can't evaluate what sharing that data would mean. Yes, all this means a lot less data and a self-selected sample, and I think that is unavoidable. Simply put: asking for a blank check from users is objectionable even if you don't plan to do anything wrong with it. You should not even ask people for that much trust.

Now, if it is opt-in I don't care as much. The status quo is so bad in various respects that I'm willing to settle for this compromise (even though I still think it is far from ideal)... especially for FOSS projects, where we have more transparency and more assurances. In particular, it is more likely that the interests of users and devs align. When you give data to a proprietary developer to "improve the software", their idea of improvement is likely to be ways to manipulate you and squeeze more money out of you; it is not in your best interest to give them whatever data they want, because your goals are not necessarily theirs.
m2mg2 Jul 8, 2023
All my computers are Fedora, we have like 11 in the house (big family). They would all be another distribution shortly after opt out telemetry was enabled. Reading through the threads thankfully it's looking like it won't happen. I agree with many others that telemetry should be packaged separately and shouldn't even be installed unless the user opts in. I'm amazed at how prevalent malicious design has become. How can we train users to spot and avoid malicious activity by malicious individuals when the same methods are used by "legitimate" sources? IMO any design that is intended to circumvent the users intentions and choices is malicious.


Last edited by m2mg2 on 8 July 2023 at 7:59 pm UTC
slaapliedje Jul 8, 2023
My question is; after IBM's most recent FU to the open source community... is anyone still going to use Fedora, let alone want to give them any data?
mr-victory Jul 8, 2023
KDE Plasma added opt-in telemetry and life went on. Fedora is considering telemetry and it blew up for some reason.
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