Audio editor Audacity has the audacity to add telemetry collection -- and users are not happy

Laptop collecting data

Whatever the reasons behind it, the inclusion of telemetry collection in software never goes down well -- as Microsoft knows all too well from the reaction to Windows 10 telemetry. Now, open-source audio editor Audacity has taken the decision to add such data capture into the software.

The development team stresses that telemetry exists solely to "identify product issues early", but there has already been quite a backlash. The sharing of data with Google and Yandex has not gone well.

The development team stresses that telemetry is disabled by default and is optional, but there has been a vocal response from opponents to the move on GitHub. Attempting to soften the blow of telemetry, the team says that while Audacity is widely used across several platforms, they have no information on the application stability. On top of this, the team says it is hard to know how many users there are, what types of users are affected by specific problems, and whether or not it is safe to raise minimum system requirements.

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But despite trying to sweeten the bitter pill of telemetry, the response remains overwhelmingly negative. One complaint points out that the move will not only involve using "closed source telemetry providers that are well known to data mine", but also that "the telemetry is not that useful considering that basically no Linux build will include it enabled".

In a pull request on Github headed " Basic telemetry for the Audacity", project contributor Dmitry Vedenko said:

This request provides the basic telemetry for Audacity.

To implement the network layer libcurl is used to avoid issues with the built-in networking of the wxWidgets.

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

To identify sessions we use a UUID, which is generated and stored on the client machine.

We use Yandex Metrica to be able to correctly estimate the daily active users correctly. We have to use the second service as Google Analytics is known to have some really tight quotas.

Both services also record the IP the request is coming from.

In an update that followed, further details were provided, with Vedenko expanding on things to say:

Due to the large amount of worry about this PR, (which we completely understand), we want to clarify exactly what is going on:

  1. Telemetry is strictly optional and disabled by default. No data is shared unless you choose to opt-in and enable telemetry.
  2. Telemetry only works in the builds made by GitHub CI from the official repo (the telemetry URLs are only defined there).
  3. If you are compiling Audacity from source, we will provide a CMake option to enable the telemetry code. This option will be turned off by default.

The addition of telemetry comes just days after Audacity was purchased by Muse Group. There is already talk of a new forked version of the app that will not include data collection.

Image credit: Tashatuvango / Shutterstock

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