March 18, 2009 | By Hugh D'Andrade

CNET Axes Blogger Who Exposed Whitehouse.gov Privacy Issue

Former CNET blogger Chris Soghoian has produced some of the best coverage on the issue of privacy for users of government websites. His http://news.cnet.com/8300-13739_3-46-1.html?tag=mncol">work on the use of YouTube cookies and other tracking technologies on whitehouse.gov brought public attention to the issue, and inspired EFF to get involved.

Beyond informing the public, Soghoian's work in this area has arguably had positive effects on policy. The Obama team has made several commendable adjustments to their privacy and video hosting policies including adding a prominent link to their privacy policy and using YouTube's new "delayed cookies" functionality-- results that seem related, at least in time, to Soghoian's sustained coverage of the issue.

It comes as a surprise, then, to hear that CNET will no longer carry Soghoian's blog. While Soghoian's confrontational style and irreverent approach may have been factors, it appears the decision to drop his blog largely stems from a minor kerfuffle over a headline. A Soghoian post initially titled "White House Ditches YouTube After Privacy Complaints" brought loud denials from the YouTube and the Obama team. The Obama folks belatedly said that their use of non-YouTube video was only an experiment, a possibility that Soghoian mentioned in his article.

If companies like CNET want the energy and edginess of bloggers like Soghoian — who did real research and reporting instead of just republishing or commenting on the work of others — they need to be willing to support them when that same edge sparks a backlash from powerful forces. Without such backbone, it's hard to see how Internet news sources will ever be able to fill the shoes of the rapidly disappearing print media empires.

Meanwhile, the problem of cookies and other tracking technologies on government sites remains. We're looking forward to reading Soghoian's continuing coverage of it on his new blog, Slight Paranoia — already he has blogged about his development of a Firefox add-on that installs opt-out cookies for most of the major targeted advertising networks. And we hope that CNET, along with other media, will continue to cover the story and keep the pressure on YouTube and the White House to protect the privacy of those using government websites.


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