White House Denies Shunning YouTube

03 Mar White House Denies Shunning YouTube

New York Times, By MIGUEL HELFT, March 2, 2009

The blogosphere was abuzz on Monday over reports that the White House’s official Web site had stopped putting YouTube videos on its pages after privacy advocates raised concerns about the practice. Now the White House is denying that it has changed its policy on videos from YouTube, which is owned by Google, or other third parties. While it chose to host President Barack Obama’s weekly radio and video address on WhiteHouse.gov, rather than embed a video from YouTube on its site, the change was simply an experiment, said Nick Shapiro, a White House spokesman. “As the president continues his goal of making government more accessible and transparent, this week we tested a new way of presenting the president’s weekly address by using a player developed in-house,” Mr. Shapiro said in a statement. “This decision is more about better understanding our internal capabilities than it is a position on third-party solutions or a policy. The weekly address was also published in third-party video hosting communities and we will likely continue to embed videos from these services on WhiteHouse.gov in the future.” Some privacy advocates were unconvinced. Chris Soghoian, a research fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, noted that the White House had already changed both its privacy policy and the way it embedded YouTube videos because of criticism from advocates like himself. “I would suggest that the evidence speaks for itself,” Mr. Soghoian said in an interview. “The fact that they are paying for a video solution speaks to privacy issues. The only way I can see they are doing this is that it gives them a finer grain of control over the privacy issues.” (Mr. Soghoian’s blog post on the latest approach to using video on WhiteHouse.gov includes a recap of prior changes.) YouTube and the White House have been discussing ways to address privacy and other concerns. As a result of those discussions, the White House first switched from a YouTube video player that installs a cookie on a user’s computer whenever it is loaded, to a player that installs a cookie only when a user clicks to watch a video. YouTube also developed a version of that player that does not have the YouTube logo. And it began embedding its own privacy policy on videos that are streamed from government sites to alert users that YouTube was collecting information about them. Those changes are part of broader discussions YouTube has been having with the General Services Administration over the use of embedded videos on government sites. “The embed player we’ve developed is available to all federal agencies, and currently the White House has embedded several YouTube videos on WhiteHouse.gov,” said Scott Rubin, a YouTube spokesman. But YouTube had no input into the White House’s decision to use its own player for this week’s presidential address, Mr. Rubin said. “The White House’s decision to use an in-house player for the president’s most recent Web address is their decision, and all inquiries regarding that issue should be directed to the White House,” he said. It all suggests that the effort by the Obama administration to make government more transparent by communicating with citizens directly via the Web is hitting some speed bumps. In The Washington Post on Monday, Macon Phillips, the White House director of new media, described the effort as entering “uncharted territory.” None of the changes at WhiteHouse.gov are likely to put to rest concerns about the extensive use of the YouTube site itself by government agencies and members of Congress to distribute video clips. The concerns range from privacy issues to Google’s rapidly growing clout and access in Washington.