EFF Questions YouTube Clips On White House Site

29 Gen EFF Questions YouTube Clips On White House Site

Media Post, By Wendy Davis, January 28, 2009
President Barack Obama’s use of YouTube has drawn fire from the digital rights group Electronic Frontier Foundation, which is questioning whether it poses a threat to people’s online privacy. “Overall, we believe visitors to government Web sites should be able to view official information securely, without fear of being tracked either by the government itself or by third parties such as YouTube,” EFF director Cindy Cohn wrote Tuesday in a letter to White House counsel Gregory Craig. “If the government uses the services of private companies, it should make sure that those companies employ the same privacy-protective standards that the government sets for itself.” The controversy stems from the embedding of YouTube clips on WhiteHouse.gov. Obama is putting weekly addresses on YouTube and the clips are embedded on WhiteHouse.gov. Since 2000, the federal government has eschewed the use of persistent cookies without prior approval by an agency secretary. But Google’s YouTube sets persistent cookies, including hard-to-delete “flash” cookies, on the computers of people who stream clips. The company says it does so for several reasons, including the accurate tracking of view counts. In her letter, Cohn requested that Craig’s office explain why it decided to waive the typical ban on cookies for WhiteHouse.gov. She also proposed that Craig’s office work with YouTube to end the retention of cookie data. The AT&T-backed think tank Future of Privacy Forum recently called for the White House to relax rules about cookies, arguing that cookies enable social networking functions and personalization. Co-chair Jules Polonetsky said the controversy supports the group’s position. “This minor kerfuffle illustrates that there’s a need to come up with an updated policy,” he said. But, he added, the process will take time. “You can’t do it in two days,” he added. “As important as this issue is, people should clamp down and give them a couple of weeks.”