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3/3/2009
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YouTube Denies Being 'Ditched' By White House

The Obama administration's Web site came under fire from privacy advocates as soon as it launched for using YouTube videos.

The White House and YouTube have not parted ways, despite claims to the contrary.

On Monday, Chris Soghoian, a research fellow at Harvard University's Berkman Center for Internet and Society, published a blog post on CNET stating that the White House had ditched YouTube as a video provider in response to privacy concerns.

Shortly thereafter, YouTube's news and politics editor Steve Grove responded in post on Google's Public Policy blog, stating, "That report is wrong."

Soghoian noticed that the White House site had served its most recent video address using a Flash-based video player hosted by Akamai rather than YouTube. He took that as a sign that the White House had changed horses.

But White House spokesperson Nick Shapiro told The New York Times, "...the change was simply an experiment."

The Obama administration's Web site came under fire from privacy advocates as soon as it launched for using YouTube videos, which automatically loaded persistent cookies to visitors' browsers, contrary to federal guidelines.

In response to complaints, the White House Web site placed embedded YouTube videos behind a static image of the video player that must be clicked to initiate loading. That prevented cookies from being deposited without user action.

YouTube also made some changes to its video player to address the privacy issues raised.

"To ensure that we openly communicate about privacy issues on all federal Web sites that use our technology, we created an embeddable video player that does not send a cookie until the visitor plays the video, and we added a link to our privacy policy so that visitors know who is sending the cookie if they choose to play the video," he wrote.

Among those calling for greater privacy protections at the White House site, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) expressed cautious optimism that the White House Web team was responding to privacy concerns, even if it appeared reluctant to acknowledge its response.

The EFF also said the government can do more to protect the privacy of visitors to the White House Web site.

"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," the EFF said in an online post. "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 Web sites as part of providing the service as soon as reasonably possible."


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