Now the Obama Administration says that their privacy-protective step was just “an experiment." If so, it’s an experiment we hope they continue.
Over the weekend, the White House quietly shifted from using YouTube-hosted videos and delivered the president's Saturday address using Flash-based video hosted on government servers. As a result, visitors to whitehouse.gov no longer had third party cookies that enable tracking of their web use placed on their computers when they choose to view a video.
EFF was ready to congratulate the White House on their change in policy and for their swiftness in addressing the issue. It would mean that the Obama website team has the will and the agility to hear concerns from the public, and to act quickly to find remedies that work in the public's interest. We still hope this experiment in change is a harbinger of things to come and hold our kudos at the ready.
Even with this change, there will be room for further improvement. YouTube cookies are not the only third-party web tracking technology in use on government websites, as we pointed out in our letter. There is still the issue of "invisible pixel" style webbug/tracker on every page on the site, hosted by WebTrends.com, which raises equally important concerns. Also, if the government continues to use edge-caching technology such as that provided by Akamai, Inc. or Amazon S3, the government should require those providers to destroy any IP address or other information that they obtain about visitors to the websites as part of providing the service as soon as reasonably possible.
We are also still looking forward to a response from Mr. Craig concerning the waiver, whether whitehouse.gov goes “cookieless” permanently or not. Transparency means that the public should be able to see the basis for good decisions made by their government as well as bad ones.
Meanwhile, as blogger Soghoian points out, the White House experiment comes on the heels of recent changes made by YouTube to address one of the issues of cookies on federal government sites – cookies that are triggered even if the video on the page is not played. YouTube recently created an option for delayed cookies, giving the option to those who embed YouTube videos on their sites to prevent cookies from being automatically deposited on a visitor's computer until the user clicks to view the video. (Their solution is akin to EFF's MyTube code which does something similar.)