Is Audacity really going to spy on you?

Audacity would be interested a little too closely in your personal data. This is the alarm raised by the free software community following the evolution of the privacy policy of the well-known audio manipulation software. The situation is obviously a bit more nuanced.

Recently acquired by a private company, Audacity is currently in the midst of a controversy. Open source audio editing software has updated its privacy policy to include some pretty amazing terms regarding data collection.

In the update dated July 2, 2021, Audacity’s data protection policy states that the company reserves the right to collect personal information such as the IP address of users of the program, as well as ” data necessary for law enforcement, disputes and requests from the authorities “. What to give shivers in the free software community where the software was born. But is Audacity really capable of spying on you?

A radical evolution

The way in which this new privacy protection policy is written is something to question. The language used is very vague regarding the collection and resale of data. The company indicates for example that this personal data could be shared with the authorities, but also of ” potential buyers “. On top of that, according to the company, use of the software is not permitted by people under the age of 13.

All these changes have made the community of librarians traditionally very committed to the protection of privacy scream. This new policy is however not so different from what we find in other software of its kind. It seems that Muse Group (the new parent company of Audacity) has simply copied and pasted a standard contract based on its other commercial software.

Audacity in version 3.0.2 on macOS // Source: Screenshot

The collection of telemetry data (bug, instabilities, etc.) as well as those that can be used by the authorities is quite typical of what we find in the industry (at Adobe in particular). As for the age limit, it is most likely due to an overzealous application of the GDPR which strictly regulates the collection of data from minors.

Why is this change so controversial then? Well because it’s a pretty radical evolution for Audacity, which until now offered strong protections on the subject of privacy, a legacy of its open source development. Aligning with what is being done in the industry is therefore seen as a step backwards.

An Audacity clone already in preparation

In addition, certain sections of this privacy notice are in direct opposition to the terms of the GPL license under which the software is developed. For example, Audacity’s legal distribution conditions do not allow any age restriction. One more element which seems to point to the fact that the legal team of Muse Group has revised its policy without taking into account the specificities of Audacity.

To answer the question then, it is unlikely that Audacity will become spyware tomorrow that resells all your data all over the web. The versions of the software released before July 2 do not include these data collection tools. But these changes are worrying enough that Internet users have already embarked on the creation of an Audacity clone that does not include this component concerning data collection.

Such concerns had already given birth a few years ago to LibreOffice which was built on the ruins of OpenOffice (bought by Oracle at the time). It is therefore a safe bet that an Audacity bis will arrive in the coming weeks. This is also the magic of free software.

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