Audacity bows to public pressure and says it will NOT collect telemetry data from users

Perceived invasions of privacy never go down well, as many software developers have discovered. Microsoft has received quite a backlash in response to telemetry in Windows 10, and the recent announcement that the audio editor Audacity was planning to do the same prompted a fierce reaction from users.

Audacity's new owner, Muse Group, has bowed to pressure from users and privacy advocates, announcing that the planned telemetry collection will no longer be going ahead. The company is blaming "communication mistakes" and public "misunderstanding" for the negative response to its previous data collection announcement.

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A pull request on the Audacity GitHub repository a couple of weeks ago revealed plans to add optional "basic telemetry" to the audio software. Reaction and responses were overwhelming negative, seemingly catching Muse Group on the backfoot and completely off-guard. Now the company has been forced into an embarrassing climb-down from what it describes as a "bad communication/coordination blunder that caught us completely by surprise".

In a new pull request, project leader Tantacrul (or Martin Keary, as he is better known) writes that "we are dropping the telemetry features proposed in PR #835", explaining:

The creation and subsequent discovery of PR #835 was a bad communication/coordination blunder that caught us completely by surprise. We're very sorry for causing so much alarm. Our intention was to make an initial announcement about our plans to introduce telemetry on the Audacity forum, similar to how we discussed the topic for MuseScore in 2019. In that instance, I think the fact that we introduced the issue openly resulted in a lot less suspicion.

Keary goes on to say:

I have spent the last few days working with the heads of Muse to try and reach a solution that would accommodate the requests of the community as much as possible. Apologies about the delay. These decisions took time to arrive at because - despite my role as the lead on the project - calls on this specific issue are not mine to make.

First, it is important to stress that we have absolutely no interest in harvesting or selling personal data and Audacity will always be free and open source. The response to PR #835 has brought about a realisation at Muse that the convenience of using Yandex and Google is at odds with the public perception of trustworthiness, so we will be self-hosting instead.

The next item is telemetry. I believe our communication mistake contributed to a lot of misunderstanding about our intentions here. Telemetry is a practical tool that tells us a lot about how an app is performing or underperforming (is this new feature being used a lot? Is this button being discovered? etc.) We assumed that making it opt-in would allay privacy concerns but since this isn't the case, we are dropping it. In the future, we may want to determine if there are any acceptable alternative solutions that could achieve the same goal.

The Audacity project is looking for further feedback about the issue. While telemetry has been dropped for the time being, it is clearly something that is considered useful and may well be reinvestigated in the future -- although perhaps with a different approach and better communication. Whether this results in a more positive reaction remains to be seen.

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