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'A massive middle finger': Open-source audio fans up in arms after Audacity opts to add telemetry capture

Move comes days after firm acquired by Muse Group


Open source audio software outfit Audacity, now under new management, is adding some "basic telemetry", much to the alarm of many of its community.

The request turned up in GitHub this week, aimed at providing some telemetry, and the author of the request, Dmitry Vedenko, explained:

Universal Google Analytics is used to track the following events:

  • Session start and end
  • Errors, including errors from the sqlite3 engine, as we need to debug corruption issues reported on the Audacity forum
  • Usage of effects, sound generators, analysis tools, so we can prioritize future improvements.
  • Usage of file formats for import and export
  • OS and Audacity versions

A UUID stored on the local machine would be used to identify sessions and web analytics service Yandex Metrica used to estimate daily active users.

"Telemetry collection is optional and configurable at any time," he added.

The change has not gone down well. At time of writing it had attracted over 2,000 "thumbs down" emojis, while a mere 39 users clicked "thumbs up." Hardly a ringing endorsement.

Telemetry collection is an area that causes much gnashing of teeth and twisting of knickers in the open source community. While some see it as a pointless invasion of privacy, others find it invaluable for solving issues or identifying how people use a product.

However, stir third-party services like Google Analytics and Yandex into the mix and the reaction is overwhelmingly negative. There is also the question of opt in vs opt out. Red Hat software engineer Eric Gustavsson had a poke through the code and confirmed it was an opt-in affair, although we can see how a user cheerfully clicking through boxes (because nobody ever does that) might inadvertently opt themselves in.

Telemetry collection is not a new thing for other brands under the Muse Group umbrella. Stablemate notation software firm Musescore defended its use of the technology back in 2019. Adding it to Audacity, however, runs the risk of a fork of the code or some customers looking elsewhere.

As one user delicately put it: "Currently over 99.97 per cent of the reactions to the original commit are negative. Clearly the users are overwhelming[ly] opposed to it. If it gets added, that will be a massive middle finger to people who have used Audacity all these years and will most likely result in a loss of users."

Quite.

The Register has contacted Audacity and the Muse Group for comment. The latter has yet to respond. The former did, and the original Github PR description was updated in an effort to smooth ruffled feathers.

The Audacity team confirmed that the feature would require a user to opt-in and was purely there to identify issues and get a handle on the size of the user base.

As for those third parties, the team said: "We do not incorporate cross-site tracking, limiting the ability to identify the user by both Google and Yandex," before going on to say: "We will consider replacing Google and Yandex with another service if we find one that fulfills our requirements."

But as for the telemetry itself: "Just to reiterate, telemetry is completely optional and disabled by default."

The joy of open source means that users can, if they wish, verify Audacity's claims for themselves before deciding that the time has come for a fork. ?

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