Thursday, January 22, 2009

In a story that is perhaps receiving far too little attention from the mainstream media, Virtualpolitik interview subject Chris Soghoian reports that the "White House exempts YouTube from privacy rules." I've written before about my concerns that the new administration, much like the general public, is becoming far too dependent on third-party commercial proprietary software applications that depend on cloud computing technologies and propagate a myth of enduring dot-com corporate benevolence despite a business model based on targeted advertising and stealth marketing that requires privacy to be compromised by its very nature. Although Soghoian points out the problems with using a web service that relies on consumer surveillance on a portal to public documents, YouTube videos receive a considerable amount of free advertising on and continue to harvest data from unwary visitors to the site who pick up a cookie when they click on an Obama video that facilitates tracking browsing histories.

Update: It may not be receiving attention from the media, but concerns raised by privacy advocates like Soghoian are certainly getting the attention of the White House's IT people. A mere twelve hours later, according to "White House acts to limit YouTube cookie tracking," the design team created lookalike play screens to make cookie tracking at least contingent on the click that plays the video.

The news isn't that great, however, since it doesn't change the basic facts of the case, as Soghoian explains in "White House yanks 'YouTube' from privacy policy. Furthermore, the anonymous authors of the White House site added more obfuscating verbiage about which company is doing possibly objectionable data collection when they scrubbed mentions of the YouTube brand by changing "YouTube" to "some third-party providers."

It should be noted that this change is, for the most part, cosmetic. YouTube continues to be the only company whose video content is embedded within the White House Web site. Furthermore, the Google-owned video-sharing site is the only one that has received both official legal clearance from the White House Counsel and direct assistance by the White House tech staff (who embed the YouTube content) in planting tracking cookies within the Web browsers of millions of Americans.

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