Is Audacity Now Spyware? And Why Is It ‘PG-13’?

FOSS Post, an independent news site that covers open source software, reports that the popular open source audio software Audacity may now be spyware. They recommend uninstalling the application ASAP.

Audacity was acquired by a company named Muse Group two months ago. According to Foss Post’s report, “While Audacity is nothing more than a desktop program, its developers want to make it phone home with various data taken from users’ machines.”

The report notes:

“The updated privacy policy page (which was uploaded 2 days ago) for Audacity includes a wide range of data collection mechanisms. It states for example that it can hand any user data to state regulators where it is located – which is basically Russia, USA and the EEA zone.

All your personal data is stored on our servers in the European Economic Area (EEA). However, we are occasionally required to share your personal data with our main office in Russia and our external counsel in the USA.

One would not expect an offline desktop application to be collecting such data, phoning-home and then handing that data to governments around the world whenever they see fit. If you want to stay away from such things, then stay away from Audacity.

By doing these suspicious activities, the people behind Audacity and Muse Group have shown their selves to be unworthy of the trust of the open source community, and hence, the software should be abandoned and disposed from Linux distributions’ repositories.”

What The Fork?

The app is also now ‘rated PG-13’, as the privacy policy states that Audacity should not be used by people below the age of 13.

You can read details of the new policy on the Audacity site.

It appears that Muse Group may have updated the privacy policy to be consistent with its other products. But users on Github and Reddit argue that the changes are not only unnecessary and unwelcome, but violate Audacity’s GPL licensing, which states that “The act of running the Program is not restricted.”

As a result of Muse Group’s changes, some are calling for Audacity to be ‘forked’.

Open-source applications can be ‘forked’, which means that anyone can take the Audacity code and create a new version of the app, as long as they abide by the source’s licensing. You can follow the discussions at Github and Reddit.

Update: Muse Groups’s plans appear to be evolving – a May 17 Tech Radar article says that the company reversed their initial plans for data collection, but their Privacy Policy, containing the issues people are concerned about, is dated July 2.

35 thoughts on “Is Audacity Now Spyware? And Why Is It ‘PG-13’?

    1. Bullshit, this is entirely antithetical to FOSS software and if it wasn’t for Muse group forcing it through (and probably killing Audacity in the progress) it would’ve never happened.

  1. I had my suspicions about this when it was announced Muse Group had acquired Audacity.
    Who would acquire a free open source piece of software to do nothing with? It obviously cost them and they’ll want to recoup their costs, with more on top presumably.

  2. The policy changes may have problematic wording vis-à-vis the licenses, but the whole spyware claims are just as bullshit as in May, when they first added the opt-in telemetry.

    1. Is it though? When you check the Appstore you’ll see all their apps asking a sick amount of personal data from users. Big red flag! It’s all free cause you are the product. 😉

      1. The software is still open source, so if the tin foil is feeling too tight, you can always inspect all the code and compile it yourself.

  3. So the studio computer never connected with the internet is still the way to keep your tracks safe from Putin.
    Maybe double check Behringer’s software as well. 😛

    1. I was thinking this. I’m hoping it’s possible to install an older version of Audacity, before the Muse acquisition.
      I’m sure there will be older versions archived on the web somewhere.

    2. Check out DSP Quattro. It’s a nice, full-featured audio editor. I’d add that Ircam TS is also pretty useful. I don’t have a good recommendation for the noise-reduction features, though

      1. It’s good to step into the Pro Tools world and learn the software, but it’s ultimately pretty limited, understandably. I think there are too many compromises to rely on as your primary DAW. Check out Reaper for a more long term solution if you don’t choose PT.

    3. I can’t vouch for it (as if a stranger vouching makes a difference), but OcenAudio may get at least part of the way toward replacing Audacity. I’ve never done a 1:1 comparison, though.

  4. Nominally, they are only doing this to do user-research, to improve the UX which is, admittedly, terrible. But that means they can’t collect from persons below the age of 13 for legal reasons, which, yes, doesn’t match the GPL. But if they collect data, they have to make it available to the law-enforcement in the legal jurisdiction where the user resides. This is not frequently used, but the data is there. And they did not do a great job of communicating what data would be collected in the first place.

    1. From the article:

      “Audacity also say in the clarification regarding user data: “We do not and will not sell ANY data we collect or share it with 3rd parties. Full stop.””

      From the updated Privacy Policy:

      “Who does Audacity share your Personal Data with?

      • to a potential buyer (and its agents and advisers) in connection with any proposed purchase, merger or acquisition of any part of our business, provided that we inform the buyer it must use your Personal Data only for the purposes disclosed in this Notice;

      • to any other person if you have provided your prior consent to the disclosure.”

      Now let’s go back to the article for a moment:

      “The lesson to communications here – and Muse are far from the first developer to discover this – is that you might want to release the explanation at the same time if not before the confusing and potentially incendiary legalese your lawyers came up with.”

      They didn’t learn anything, clearly, and they kept the bad language. That’s how sure they are you won’t actually read the Privacy Policy.

      Yup, done with Audacity.

  5. ProTools has always been too difficult for me to learn. Samplitude by Magix is very easy to use and on same level of quality as ProTools. I got it on sale for $150 a while back. I have used this software for 20+ years. It is great.

  6. I didn’t use Audacity often. However, it was my only noise reduction software, which it did fairly well. Other than that, I can do everything in other ways.

    I did often recommend Audacity (and Muse Score) to people looking for cheap/free software. It may or may not be an over-reaction, but I very much prefer software to give me an opt-in option for surrendering my privacy.

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