Open Source

How to change your privacy settings in Ubuntu's Unity Dash

Jack Wallen shows you how to protect your privacy by changing a setting in Ubuntu Unity's search dash.

As many of you already know, I'm a big fan of Ubuntu Unity. Although, admittedly, I was very much opposed to the new desktop — it very quickly grew on me. And even as much ire was raised against the change, Canonical forged ahead with it. New features began to appear, some of which were immediately embraced and some were shunned. But none of those features have brought about as much polarization as the search feature in the Dash.

If you aren't up to speed, let me explain. If I open the Dash and type something (say "jack wallen" — Figure A), the search results that appear come from not only your desktop, but various locations from the internet (primarily Amazon.com). The goal was to give users instant access to content from many sources.

Figure A

Figure A

Click on thumbnails to expand.

For someone like me, it's a boon; and I use it quite a lot. For others, it's a break in privacy. Though the network traffic generated by the Dash search is encrypted, there are still those that feel what they search for on their PCs should remain on their PCs — and not be broadcast for the world (or the workplace) to see.

Canonical has listened and is working to make the Dash search a feature that will please anyone. And for those that would prefer not to have Unity broadcast your searching for all to see, I'll show you how.

Turning off online results

Figure B

The fix is pretty simple — turn off online search results. To do this, follow these steps:

  1. Open the Dash.
  2. Type "privacy" (no quotes).
  3. Select the Privacy entry and hit enter (or just click it with your mouse).
  4. In the resulting window (Figure B, right), click on the Search Results tab.
  5. Slide the On/Off slider to the left to turn the online search results to Off.

That's it. Your Dash searching will no longer reach out to the online providers — giving you your privacy back.

Now, what about privacy from within? The Dash is still recording your searches as well as digging deep into the folder structure of your desktop. Are there folders whose contents you don't want to have displayed in search results? If you click in the Files tab (Figure C) you will find a place to exclude specific locations from search results.

Figure C

Figure C

You can select pre-configured locations or add user-specified folders to exclude. If you'd like to turn off the recording of searches, slide the Record Activity "On/Off" slider to the left, and your search will no longer be saved in history.

Finally, if you want to comb through the privacy policy (to find out exactly what Canonical's legal take is on this), open the Dash and click on the Legal Notice link in the bottom right corner. NOTE: Once you've clicked on Legal Notice, the "button" will, from that point on, no longer say "Legal Notice", but instead display an "i".

Of note, in that legal information, is this:

Unless you have opted out (see the "Online Search" section below), we will also send your keystrokes as a search term to productsearch.ubuntu.com and selected third parties so that we may complement your search results with online search results from such third parties including: Facebook, Twitter, BBC and Amazon. Canonical and these selected third parties will collect your search terms and use them to provide you with search results while using Ubuntu.

This is really the piece of information that has many users up in arms.

Take it for what it's worth, but Canonical is simply trying to make the desktop PC easier to use for everyone. For me, the search in Unity's Dash is a great tool that will only continue to improve and bring more and more refined and powerful search tools to the desktop. I hope that sometime soon, someone will develop a Unity Lens that allows the user to search (and install) more lenses. That would be handy!

About

Jack Wallen is an award-winning writer for TechRepublic and Linux.com. He’s an avid promoter of open source and the voice of The Android Expert. For more news about Jack Wallen, visit his website getjackd.net.

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