sex drugs and intellectual freedom

Obama, YouTube, and Privacy

Posted in politics, privacy, social networking, surveillance by A on 8 December 08

You know how Obama is “bringin’ it to the people” via those Fireside Chat 2.0 things on YouTube? Well, besides it maybe kind of sort of being totally unfair (the addresses are uploaded to YouTube, MSN, and Yahoo!, giving smaller video hosting sights no respect and also placing the burden of bandwidth onto, mostly, YouTube, as the video on the change.gov site is embedded from there), it also presents some major privacy risks…

From Chris Soghoian’s Surveillance State at CNET:

YouTube, like many other sites, uses persistent cookies to track repeat visitors. Thus, when a regular YouTube user views a video embedded in a blog or other third-party site, the user’s cookie is automatically sent to YouTube’s servers–even without the user clicking the play button. Given the widespread use of embedded videos, this gives Google, which owns YouTube, an even better idea of the surfing habits of millions of people around the world…

The privacy risks aren’t just limited to YouTube.

Just a week ago, Dan Goodin at The Register criticized the use of the Google Analytics Web-tracking code in the Change.gov site–which also sets a permanent tracking cookie. Although he mostly focused on security risks, and not privacy-related threats, he blasted Obama’s Web design team, stating that:

The failure of Obama’s Webmasters to follow anything remotely like best practices is more than a little troubling because it suggests they don’t fully grasp the security realities of living in a Web 2.0 world.Eight years ago, the issue of cookies tracking users on government sites was a fairly big issue in tech policy circles, drawing the attention of those in Congress. Eventually, the Office of Management and Budget issued a directive that forbid the use of persistent cookies on federal agency sites.

The Obama team’s use of both YouTube and Google Analytics raises serious privacy concerns and likely clashes with the OMB directive.

In a world where younger people are increasingly held responsible for their actions in the Web 2.0 world, this is quite disconcerting. These are the people who, in little over a month, will be responsible for dictating the legal and political landscape surrounding the use of social technologies they apparently don’t fully understand. How can we hold young people on MySpace, YouTube, and Facebook (among other sites) responsible for their actions when even sites with the best of intentions (i.e. change.gov) willingly compromise their privacy?

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