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Obama removes YouTube from YouTube-side chats

Swallows Google spy cookie

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US President Barack Obama has removed the YouTube from his YouTube-side chats, after repeated complaints over the video sharer's use of long-term tracking cookies on his official White House blog.

On Saturday, Obama's weekly video address made its usual appearance at WhiteHouse.gov. But this time, as reported by CNet, the site did not embed the video address by way of YouTube. It appears the White House is now delivering its own Flash-based video code via Akamai's ever-popular content delivery network.

In late January, CNet's Chris Soghoian pointed out that in placing YouTube videos on its site, the White House had exempted the Google-owned video sharer from a rule that forbids the use of long-term tracking cookies on federal agency websites. In typical Google fashion, YouTube was issuing tracking cookies to everyone who visited the president's blog - whether they actually watched a video or not.

Following Soghoian's post, the White House promptly altered its site so that YouTube cookies were issued only when a user actually hit the play button. But privacy watchdogs continued to complain that Obama's YouTube-side chats were undermining longstanding government policy.

"President Obama is leading the way in making new and unprecedented use of the new technologies to keep the public informed and engaged," read a blog post from the Electronic Frontier Foundation, after it tossed a concerned letter to White House counsel Gregory Craig. "We are hopeful that his Administration will readily recognize that part of open and responsive Government is making sure that neither the government, nor any third parties, are tracking the activities of those who seek to access government information."

The White House seems to have acquiesced with its (unannounced) switch to a custom-built video solution. The White House did post Saturday's video address to its usual channel on YouTube's site, but it completely bypassed YouTube code in posting the video to its own site.

The move comes even as YouTube was attempting to update its code in response to the ongoing controversy. Sites can now choose a "delayed cookie" option when embedding videos, which duplicates the White House's January change. With delayed cookies, YouTube won't track users unless users hit the play button.

It appears that YouTube is also including a link to its privacy policy in videos posted to government websites. That's right, the White House wasn't the only one exempting Google from federal privacy policy. ®

Update

The White House has told The New York Times that it's use of a custom Flash player was just a test.

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