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Posts Tagged ‘Web

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.

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 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 To opt out of collection by 24/7 Real Media, please visit: To opt our of collection by Yahoo Search Marketing, please go to

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

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 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 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: — the rest of the story

leave a comment » All the government news that fit for links?

Earlier I told you about, a new Web site — in fact, it was just “officially” launched yesterday — that pulls together information from many of the government publications.

I had asked Goldy Kamali, who is vice president of business development, public sector at Adventos and the person responsible for the site, for the story behind FedScoop. She sent me the FedScoop press release, which does provide more information.

Through word of mouth alone, has become the most popular news source for the Government IT community prior to its official October 1, 2008 launch. FedScoop’s Founder and President, Goldy Kamali, is not surprised. “I guess everyone was as tired as I was of going to 15 different places to search topics like Telework or cloud computing,” says Kamali. A prominent high tech sales and marketing executive, Kamali most recently served as Executive Director of AeA’s Government and Commercial Markets Group where she ran all of AeA’s Federal Business Development programs and initiatives.

FedScoop’s inception and sleek, user-friendly format resulted after a lunchtime brainstorming session with Nigel Ballard, Federal Marketing Manager at Intel. “The Federal space was crying out for single online port of call for busy Federal IT professionals. The solution seemed rather obvious, an onlinemashup of disparate Federal news sources, brought together in one easy-on-the-eyes website. And FedScoop is it,” says Ballard. “For those who have been struggling to settle on one must-read Federal web site to save as their home page, that search is finally over.” Ballard has remained actively engaged in the progress and development of the site.

Existing, similar sites depend on editors to edit and approve individual stories. FedScoop, however, automatically pulls stories from different Federally focused news sources 24/7. In addition, FedScoop allows for custom searches of the entire contents of all of the featured sites and blogs.

I’m thrilled to say that Kamali added this blog to FedScoop — Woot to that! (And I’m right next to CJD-fav Robert Carey’s blog, the CIO of the Department of the Navy and the first government CIO to post a blog. Of course, the editor in me would say that this blog and the Carey blog — and others — are of more relevance to government audiences then, say, the NYT blog, The Caucus. That’s why the “about” page becomes so important… But the WSJ blogs, The Washington Wire and the WSJ’s Business Technology are quite good. But this is really just nit picking, isn’t it? )I said earlier that I think people like to know who is pulling information together, even if it isn’t done by editors, and the above item, which is posted on the “about” page helps. (And, of course, I noted that my “about” page isn’t showing up on this site. I’ll have to get that fixed.)

The layout, designed by FaraJoomla, sure is nice, isn’t it?

I look forward to seeing how it develops and evolved… and if it becomes a resource for people.

Again, stay tuned.

Written by cdorobek

October 1, 2008 at 7:43 PM

Posted in Web sites

Tagged with , ,

DorobekInsider: overwhelmed

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AP is reporting that the House of Representative’s Web site was brought to its knees yesterday as people flooded the site seeking information on the vote to reject the Wall Street rescue plan.

“We haven’t seen this much demand since the 9-11 commission report” was posted on the site in 2004, said Jeff Ventura, spokesman for the House Chief Administrative Officer.

“We’re being overwhelmed with Web traffic about the bill.” Ventura said the Web site is working, but many computer users are getting the equivalent of a busy signal when they try to visit the site. Once users are on the site, it works at reduced speed. “You have to keep trying and eventually you get in,” he said. Ventura said the slowdown is expected to last until Tuesday, when demand is expected to decline with the House in recess.

In the meantime, technicians planned to work through the night to fortify the system. “Our computer people aren’t going anywhere,” Ventura said.

Written by cdorobek

September 30, 2008 at 8:11 AM

Posted in Congress, Web sites

Tagged with , , Denett’s Interior connection

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We’ve all been watching the case of the Interior Department’s Minerals Management Service. (More here.) The Interior Department’s inspector general last week found that the government officials in charge of collecting billions of dollars worth of royalties from oil and gas companies accepted gifts, steered contracts to favored clients and engaged in drug use and illicit sex with employees of the energy firms, federal investigators.

Three interesting tidbits here.

One, as I read in Federal Times, is the small world connection. Former OFPP Administrator Paul Denett’s wife, Ludy Denett, is the former associate director of Interior’s Minerals Revenue Management agency, a component of MMS.

A report by the Interior Department’s inspector general’s office describes wrongdoing by a dozen current and former employees of Interior’s Minerals Management Service (MMS), an agency that collects royalties from oil and gas projects on federal lands. The two highest-ranking employees named in the investigation are Lucy Denett, the former associate director of the Minerals Revenue Management agency, a component of MMS; and Gregory Smith, the former director of the Minerals Revenue Management’s royalty-in-kind program, which collects royalties in the form of oil and gas rather than cash…

Denett allegedly steered two contracts for technical advisory services to Jimmy Mayberry, a former Senior Executive Service employee at the agency, after he retired in 2002. The contracts totaled about $1.1 million over five years. Denett is married to Paul Denett, a longtime federal procurement executive who recently stepped down as the Office of Management and Budget’s head of federal procurement policy.

It’s important to remember that these are allegations right now. There almost always is a rush to judge — and the facts also evolve over time.

Secondly, I’m always interested in how agencies handle these kinds of high-profile content. For the Interior Department’s IG office, it is just like any other document and, therefore, it can be difficult to find. I, of course, did a Google search of Interior Department IG, found the IG’s main page, and then had to look under 2008 reports. The report, is listed as “[C-EV-MMS-0001-2008] Minerals Management Service Royalty-In-Kind Oil Sales Process.” (Sexy title, hmm?) From there, there is a link to a PDF and text file.

To the Interior’s (partial) credit, I went back to the Interior Department’s home page and they have put Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne’s response to the case, including posting it as a audio podcast, and they also have posted a link to the IG reports, although not the specific report.

Finally, I always find it interesting how people react to these kinds of incidents. Harvard Prof. Steve Kelman has been very conerned about the culture of hyper-oversight. I have shared that concern mostly because of the impact that the hyper-oversight has on how people do their jobs. The oversight of the oversight has led to a hyper-risk adverse culture in government — we simply don’t tolerate mistakes.

Over on Steve Kelman’s blog, The Lecturn, somebody calling themselves “Lisa Simpson” made this comment:

Prof. Kelman, I have been thinking a lot about the climate of fear that you hope doesn’t descend on the contracting world and was so happy to read about Paul Denett’s wife at MMS — they showed us all how to get down, and operate without fear. Way to go MMS! PARTY! PARTY!

It’s important to be clear — illeagal activities are… well, they’re illegal. And if people do illegal things, they ought to be prosecuted. There is a difference between illegal activities and what is often simply a difference of opinion about how to handle issues. (I’d point to the SunMicrosystems schedule contract issue as a case in point.)

In the end, most people do what they are supposed to do and we need to trust them — and go after those who don’t. The question is what is the proper role of oversight — and how can oversight actually help get the job done. To me right now, it seems that oversight often gets in the way of getting the job done.

Written by cdorobek

September 22, 2008 at 9:25 AM

Posted in oversight

Tagged with , , , ,