No option to disable remote album/artist/track art requests

Bug #1592108 reported by Jeroen Hoek on 2016-06-13
6
This bug affects 1 person
Affects Status Importance Assigned to Milestone
Ubuntu Music App
Undecided
Unassigned
Ubuntu UX
Undecided
Unassigned
thumbnailer (Ubuntu)
Wishlist
Unassigned
ubuntu-system-settings (Ubuntu)
Wishlist
Unassigned

Bug Description

The Music App appears to download album/artist/track art automatically. Is there a way to disable this functionality to save bandwidth? The Music App does not appear to have any user settings at all (unless I am overlooking them).

The service used to fetch the art from is far from bug-free. For an album called 'Musik für festliche Stunden' I get an album cover for 'Strauss zum Saubermachen'. While that does seem like an interesting album (clean the house with Strauss?) it is not even remotely the correct album.

Victor Thompson (vthompson) wrote :

Hi Jeroen, thanks for taking the time to file this bug and for helping to make Ubuntu better. I've added the thumbnailer project and the Ubuntu Design team as affected.

Currently there is no way of disabling these requests via the GUI. There may be a workaround via the command line, but I'm not aware of one.

Michi Henning (michihenning) wrote :

As to the incorrect album art, there is little we can do. The requests for artwork are handled by 7digital. It does a pretty good job at figuring out the correct artwork but, every now and then, it gets it wrong. (Accurate ID3 tags for album and artist help here.)

As to suppressing the automatic artwork retrieval, design should get involved. A config option on the music app should do the trick. When set, the app could just substitute the fallback artwork. I don't think we should do this on the thumbnailer level because the thumbnailer is a shared service that is used by several apps and scopes.

Jeroen Hoek (mail-jeroenhoek) wrote :

Do I understand correctly that the thumbnailer uses a remote service (7digital?) by default?

From a user's perspective I would expect to be able to reach this setting from the Music App, but if the use of this remote service is something that is done by the thumbnailer, I am not sure if adding it as an option to only the Music App is correct. If I understand correctly; from an engineering perspective the thumbnailer's job is to get the art, the Music App uses the art, but does not care how the thumbnailer got it.

Perhaps this should be a system-wide setting under 'Security & Privacy' instead? I must admit that I am not wholly comfortable with the idea of a daemon (thumbnailer) contacting commercial third party resources without being able to turn it off.

summary: - No option to disable album/artist/track art requests
+ No option to disable remote album/artist/track art requests
Michi Henning (michihenning) wrote :

Yes, the thumbnailer uses 7digital (indirectly, via dash.ubuntu.com, which acts as a proxy).

The thumbnailer is a shared service that is used by several apps and scopes. It is responsible for producing thumbnails from local media files and, if a music file doesn't contain embedded artwork, trying to get artwork from the remote image server (ultimately, 7digital).

There are no privacy issues here. dash.ubuntu.com doesn't make any end-user information available to 7digital. As far as 7digital is concerned, all requests come from dash.ubuntu.com. And dash.ubuntu.com doesn't learn much about the origin of a request either, other than what it can glean from the HTTP headers.

So, turning this off for privacy reasons is not a real concern here, IMO.

I can understand the bandwidth concern. Note though that each particular image is retrieved only once, and not at all if a music track contains embedded artwork (which will always be preferred). Once in the cache, the image stays there until the cache runs out of room (which, except for very large music and image collections, will practically be never). So, you take the bandwidth hit for each song only once, not repeatedly.

I'll mark this as a wishlist item. If we get a few more requests for disallowing remote artwork retrieval, we can look at implementing this. Most likely, the settings app would get another toggle to globally disable/enable remote artwork downloads.

Changed in music-app:
status: New → Invalid
Changed in thumbnailer (Ubuntu):
importance: Undecided → Wishlist
Changed in ubuntu-system-settings (Ubuntu):
importance: Undecided → Wishlist
Jeroen Hoek (mail-jeroenhoek) wrote :

Thanks for the in-depth reply.

It is reassuring to hear that dash.ubuntu.com acts as a proxy. On a personal level I find this to be more tolerable than a direct interface with a commercial service I have no customer relation with.

The data aspect alone is probably enough to warrant inclusion of a toggle for this feature, or perhaps an option to only download this kind of data when connected to wifi.

That said, I politely disagree on the privacy aspect. Please indulge me — an avid Ubuntu user — in relating my personal view on this matter. From a principled standpoint there are two things that would help in maintaining Ubuntu's reputation with regards to privacy.

One is informed consent. It would like to be informed about what kind of data is being automatically transmitted to other parties. Perhaps via a page in the documentation that lists the various types of external connections that are being made on a stock release of Ubuntu Touch (and probably the normal Ubuntu OS). Is such a list available?

One reason that I mention this is that the default behaviour of the dash in stock desktop Ubuntu used to be to search Amazon automatically with search terms entered. This has since been disabled by default, but did raise valid privacy concerns. I feel strongly that Ubuntu is the kind of OS where users are actively given a chance to influence the data they are broadcasting, especially in this age of mass surveillance and mass tracking. But to do that, users must be aware of what is happening and who they are communicating with. As you mention it makes quite a difference if artwork requests are done directly to 7digital or via Canonical's proxy.

The second is perhaps an extension of that, and is simply to enable users to disable this kind of behaviour. Ideally users can disable third party communications like these (indirect) requests to 7digital at will from the Privacy and Security settings.

I will admit that music artwork does seem lot less sensitive in terms of its privacy impact than general searches in the dash, but I feel strongly that this decision should be left with the user, especially for stock software included with the OS, and bundled services of the OS (e.g., the thumbnailer).

A hypothetical case that comes to my mind is this. Consider Wikipedia's list of controversial album art¹. If I was visiting a country with strict laws regarding nudity and sexuality and an active policy of examining your personal electronic devices at the border (sadly, not unlikely these days) it would be unpleasant — at the very least — to have a Music App fetch the album covers for, say, Nirvana – Nevermind or The Scorpions – Virgin Killer (!).

Needless to say that even if the music itself was allowed, possession of these kind of images is highly illegal in such jurisdictions, with punishments that are no laughing matter. If our hypothetical Scorpions-fan took care not to upload any music tagged with album covers to his device, he would still end up with those covers in plain view to any customs officer inspecting his phone or tablet.

1: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_controversial_album_art

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