Zeitgeist: Is Your OS Spying on You?

Is your OS spying on your computer habits? Daily tasks? Music you listen too? Videos you watch? How about the websites you visit? We all know Google and just about every other search engine does the latter and the last two if done online but why does your OS need to keep a record? Well if it has the latest Gnome version installed it probably is. I just learned of it today, yes I’m a bit behind, but I am shocked to say the least.

I learned of this behavior through another blog, Linuxaria. A well written post I originally was just curious as to what Zeitgeist was and what it did and now my eyes are wide open. Yes I think the devs at Gnome mean no harm but who is to say who might want to use this type of data for evil purposes or the very least to leverage for their own gain. Employers? Scorned spouse or significant other? Criminals? Our Government? I think you get the idea.

Well I for one like to know what is going on under the hood and what I do is my business. I know I can’t stop the calls for information completely lest I not use the web at all but I have knowledge of what information is being taken from my computer and what is not. I control the cookies and the sites I visit but it is getting increasingly harder not to visit any site that is not advertising merchandise of some sort that I have already purchased, from the Internet of course.

So the bottom line is if you do not know what this is I am encouraging you to at least read the Wiki post and make an educated decision about it. If you are running any of the Ubuntu versions using Gnome 3 I am encouraging you to read the Wiki and if you want to remove it, follow the steps on Linuxaria’s post. I am running LMDE at this time and Zeitgeist is not installed at this time. You can bet the house I am going to be checking again in the future as I install a lot of different programs and I like to test different desktop scenarios quite a bit and I do not like something tracking every non-system related event I happen to run. In addition it surely must use resources to keep a database on everything so in removing it you will surely increase performance a bit.

The choice is yours.

6 thoughts on “Zeitgeist: Is Your OS Spying on You?

  1. Sebastiaan Franken

    Zeitgeist doesn’t actively keep track of what you do. It just reads meta-files which are already present on your system.

    The firefox history, for example, is stored in ~/.mozilla/firefox/*.default/*.sqlite
    So really – nothing to worry about Zeitgeist here. And you can disable it or remove it if you want..

    1. Jraz Post author

      This is exactly why the post is in the form of a question. I too do not believe this is what the developers had in mind for their implementation of the code but what I worry about the most is we are on an open source platform and code that is used for tracking can be altered by others with a different intent.

      I do appreciate your comment and ideas on other programs tracking activities. This is the very reason the ‘Like’ and ‘+1′ buttons were removed from this site. I can’t philosophically agree with Facebook’s Open Graph tracking system and Google already does enough on its own that my small readership a ‘+1′ button isn’t going to affect. They can always ‘share’ the link anyway.

      1. Tynach

        Then why are you attacking Zeitgeist in particular? Firefox is open source, and ‘others’ could modify Firefox to do their evil business directly. The key thing, however, is that they would have to FORK Firefox, and get people to use their modified version. Same with Zeitgeist; by itself it is 100% harmless, and doesn’t even connect to an external server. Someone else would have to make their own version of it with malicious code, and get people to actually USE their own version.

        If you think they could just go into the source code of the official version and hide stuff in it, think again; there’s a rigorous review process for any patches or branches merging into the trunk for any open source program, and if anything like this ever WERE to happen, people would find it almost immediately, and there would be a huge fiasco within the community.

        This type of thing actually happened with the Emerald Second Life viewer, and it ended with one of the lead developers of the program being banned from Second Life, Emerald itself being banned, and a fork – with a more trusted group of people in charge – made to take its place. While people outside of the Second Life world probably have not heard of it, EVERYONE within Second Life has. It was HUGE.

        The risk of this type of thing ever happening is pretty small. The risk of it having lasting damaging effects is even smaller, probably zero. Your entire article is baseless speculation due to a lack of understanding.

        That said, I totally understand and, to an extent, agree with removing the Facebook Like and Google+1 buttons. While I myself don’t mind them, I understand the desire not to be tracked by others.

        However, I must stress the point that Zeitgeist does not do this. It tracks things on your computer, but it keeps it on your computer. In effect, it allows you to track yourself, which is a VERY useful feature if you ask me. Sometimes I lose track of myself, and this helps.

        1. Jraz Post author

          I appreciate the well thought comment. It is not Zeitgeist itself that I think would be the compromised program, but rather it would be the tool to work from. Any well crafted program could use it as the catalyst for information and that information could be potentially detrimental.

          I do think I was wrong with my title of the post by implying that Zeitgeist is the tool for spying. After re-thinking my position a bit more I should have been more prudent with a title. I am not intending on this being an attack on Ubuntu or any OS nor Zeitgeist itself but I did want to stir a discussion on what it was and what it could potentially be used for.

          You make a very strong point about the Emerald Second Life case and I can see that if the software were in the repositories how it would under go the testing you mentioned. This is why I mention I am at the trust of the developers for protecting the software I use. I can recall a screen saver not too awful long ago that was listed as bad code and the Ubuntu repositories shut it out within a couple of days from its discovery if not sooner. I do not have the exact details any longer on this but I do believe they acted responsibly and quickly to the situation. At that time I was running Ubuntu also.

          My biggest fear from this stems from the fact that if it is indeed running as a service on my computer then any software can be written to use it. Even software from the web etc. as I browse sites. I do my banking online. I pay my bills online. I shop online and all of these things can be a bit less secure when a service such as Zeitgeist is running in the background. I would feel a lot different if security features were added that invoked my permission when accessed from anywhere but the local machine. Could that be implemented? As a non-programmer but someone with a bit of logic, I would say it probably could. When and if it ever is implemented in this fashion is the question.

          I appreciate your taking the time to comment and your arguments are well received. Thank you.

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