White House exempts Google from cookie rules

CNET reports:

The new Web site for Obama’s White House is already drawing attention from privacy activists and tech bloggers. While the initial focus has been on the site’s policies relating to search engine robots, a far more interesting tidbit has so far escaped the public eye: the White House has quietly exempted YouTube from strict rules relating to the use of cookies on federal agency Web sites.

The new White House Web site privacy policy promises that the site will not use long-term tracking cookies, complying with a decade-old rule prohibiting such user tracking by federal agencies. However, the privacy policy then reveals that Obama’s legal team has exempted YouTube from this rule (YouTube videos are embedded at various places around the White House Web site).

While the White House might not be tracking visitors, the Google-owned video sharing site is free to use persistent cookies to track the browsing behavior of millions of visitors to Obama’s home in cyberspace.

No other company has been singled out and rewarded with such a waiver.

Within a day of the fact going public, the White House partially reversed itself:

Within 12 hours of the story going live, Obama’s Web team rolled out a technical fix that severely limits YouTube’s ability to track most visitors to the White House Web site.

By late Thursday evening, each embedded YouTube video had been replaced with an image of a video player, which a user must click on before the real YouTube player will be loaded. The result of this change is that YouTube is now only able to use cookies to track users who click on the “play” button on an embedded YouTube video–the majority of people who scroll through a page without clicking play will not be tracked.

That’s a step in the right direction, but the original policy was better.  If persistent cookies are bad (generally they are), then why should Google get a special dispensation?

(Via Digital Destiny, via Instapundit.)

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