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Posts Tagged ‘2008vote

Presidential cookies… and your privacy

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If the presidential candidates Web sites were government Web sites, they would violate federal privacy rules.

The Web sites of both presidential candidates use Web cookies. Web cookies are, to use the definition that the NIST Web site uses, are “small bits of text that are either used for the duration of a session (“session cookies) or saved on a user’s hard drive in order to identify that user, or information about that user, the next time the user logs on the a Web site (“persistent cookies”).” By OMB mandate as part of the E-Gov Act, persistent cookies are not allowed on federal Web sites unless specifically approved — and the approval process is somewhat arduous, so few do it.

I am interested to see who uses cookies and why. The issue is controversial in the Web world. Privacy advocates are not big fans of cookies — they can let a site track where you’ve been and how you make your way through a Web site. Web content managers love because they can show how users actually use the Web site so they can make it better. They also allow you to save a password or remember where you’ve been on a Web site, for example.

Frankly, most people just don’t think about it — not unlike many privacy issues, to be honest. (I follow this issue occasionally… See FCW Insider posts I did on the topic here… and here… and here.)

So I thought it would be interesting to see how the presidential candidates deal with the issue — and while both the Obama and McCain Web sites use persistent cookies, they both talk about it in their Web privacy policies.

BarackObama.com

As I mentioned, the Web site of the Obama for President campaign does use persistent cookies — as you can see, this cookie expires on September 26, 2010. But the campaign does a good job of explaining the whole thing on the campaign’s privacy policy:

Browser information collected on the web site:

We log IP addresses, which are the locations of computers or networks on the Internet, and analyze them in order to improve the value of our site. We also collect aggregate numbers of page hits in order to track the popularity of certain pages and improve the value of our site. We do not gather, request, record, require, collect or track any Internet users’ Personal Information through these processes.

We use cookies on our site. A “cookie” is a tiny text file that we store on your computer to customize your experience and support some necessary functions. We also use cookies to better understand how our visitors use our site. Our cookies contain no Personal Information and are neither shared nor revealed to other sites. We do not look for or at other sites’ cookies on your computer.

You also have choices with respect to cookies. By modifying your browser preferences, you can accept all cookies, be notified when a cookie is set, or reject all cookies. (For more information on how to block or filter cookies, see http://www.cookiecentral.com/faq.) However, if you reject some or all cookies, your experience at our site and other sites throughout the World Wide Web may not be complete. Also, you would be unable to take advantage of personalized content delivery offered by other Internet sites or by us.

We may use pixel tags (also known as web beacons or clear GIF files) or other tracking technology to help us manage our online advertising and to analyze and measure the effectiveness of online advertising campaigns and the general usage patterns of visitors to our Web site.. Such technologies may also be used by third party advertising service providers who serve or assist us in managing ads on our site, such as DoubleClick, Yahoo Tremor and 24/7 RealMedia. These files enable us or these third parties to recognize a unique cookie on your Web browser, which in turn enables us to learn which advertisements bring users to our website and to deliver advertising targeted to your interests. The information that is collected and shared using these pixel tags and similar technology is anonymous and not personally identifiable. It does not contain your name, address, telephone number, or email address. We are not responsible for and do not control any actions or policies of any third party advertising technology service providers or of any third party members of any related advertising networks. For more information about DoubleClick, including information about how to opt out of the use of these technologies by DoubleClick, go to http://www.doubleclick.net/us/corporate/privacy. To opt out of collection by 24/7 Real Media, please visit: http://www.247realmedia.com/opt-out.html. To opt our of collection by Yahoo Search Marketing, please go to http://info.yahoo.com/privacy/us/yahoo/ysmt/details.html.

Obama’s Web site also had a cookie that expired… in 1919. Hmmm.

JohnMcCain.com

The Web site of McCain for President also uses persistent cookies — see the cookie here that expires on Dec. 31, 2019. But, again, the campaign does a good job of explaining the what and why on the campaign’s privacy policy:

How we use log files to better serve you: We use log files to assess the aggregate level of traffic to JohnMcCain.com including what pages people are visiting, and to diagnose any potential problems with the Web site. This log file does contain an “Internet Protocol” or IP address that gives us insight on the general geographic area that visitors are coming from but not information on a specific individual. All users remain anonymous unless they choose to give us personally identifiable information, or log in to the website using a username and password or through a cookie stored on the user computer.

Information collected when you donate: When you make a contribution to John McCain 2008, federal law requires us to collect and report the following information: name, mailing address, employer, occupation, and amount of contribution. Federal law requires us to report this information to the Federal Election Commission if an individual’s contribution or contributions aggregate in excess of $200 in a single election cycle. Contributions from corporations, government contractors, foreign nationals without a “green card,” and minors (individuals under the age of 18) are prohibited. Any credit card information provided is only used to immediately process your donation. John McCain 2008 does not retain your credit card information once the donation is processed online. John McCain 2008 may also choose to publicly disclose donors online or in other methods.

Use of cookies and protecting your privacy: We do make use of cookies to personalize and customize your interaction with JohnMcCain.com and to provide you with the best possible online experience. A cookie is a tiny text file that is placed on your hard drive and does not contain any personal information about you.

Cookies are a privacy low hanging fruit, and that’s why I often check in on them. Often the biggest issue with privacy is giving people the option — telling them what you are doing and letting them decide — transparency, even.

Earlier in the year when I looked at all of the campaigns cookies, the campaign with the most persistent cookies: Rudy Giuliani. Cookies on his Web site expired on January 17, 2038… but even he had an explainer.

Written by cdorobek

October 15, 2008 at 7:39 AM

DorobekInsider.com: Does the government need a CTO?

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One of the big debates ongoing in the government IT community surrounds the proposal from Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama to create a federal chief technology officer. (You can read Obama’s technology plan here.)

On Federal News Radio’s mid-day show, InDepth with Francis Rose, on Friday, they had two former CIOs — Roger Baker, the former Commerce Department CIO and Ed Meagher, the former Interior deputy CIO, now with SRA — on the show to debate the issue. (Hear the full interview here. .mp3) Baker gives the idea a thumbs up — he believes the position would give the government a more strategic view of technology — while Meagher gave it a maybe and said there needs to be more details.

There was a fascinating piece in the most recent issue of Technology Review, published by MIT, that featured a interview with Mitch Kapor, who headed Lotus Development, which created the Lotus 1-2-3 spreadsheet program. The story has a simple headline: Does the U.S. Need a CTO?: Mitch Kapor, a pioneer of personal computing, says the position is vital given the growing importance of technology. The interview makes for an interesting read, but unfortunately Kapor still didn’t offer any more details.

Mitch Kapor likes beginnings. In 1982, he founded Lotus Development, which made the popular spreadsheet program Lotus 1-2-3. In 1990, he cofounded the ­Electronic Frontier Foundation, a political­-­advocacy and legal organization that champions free speech and privacy. And in 2003, he became the founding chair of the Mozilla Foundation, which is responsible for the open-source Web browser Firefox. Today, Kapor sits on the boards of such companies as ­Linden Research, and he heads his eponymous foundation, which provides grants to San Francisco Bay Area organizations working with low-income communities on educational and environmental issues.

Last fall, Kapor was called upon to help Senator Barack Obama define his technology positions. Kapor suggested that Obama, if elected president, should install a federal chief tech­nology officer. Conservatives grumbled at the idea of another layer of bureaucracy, but Kapor and others in Silicon Valley say the government needs cohesive technology practices and policies.

It is easy to get wrapped around the sympatic question of whether this CTO would just be a glorified federal CIO, or whether it would decrease the impact of government CIOs, which I think would be disappointing.

Both the Federal News Radio and the interview are interesting — and the subject deserves more attention.

Written by cdorobek

September 21, 2008 at 9:04 PM

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