Barack Obama should not fear cookies!
Just after President Obama was elected back in November I wrote a blog post that had been kicking around in my head for a long time calling for the “legalization” of browser cookies by Federal Government run web sites. The response to the post was great, but now it appears that the first comment from Brent Hieggelke (who was head of marketing at WebTrends for several years) was destined to become ironic. Brent (who is my neighbor in Portland) waxed philosophical about government and cookies with this comment:
“As someone who 4 years ago spent ALL of New Years Day on the phone with the White House Communications Team because their site was “outed” by CNN and other media as <> using cookies in a completely innocent manner, I couldn’t agree more.”
Turns out that Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, the new head of marketing at WebTrends, is probably having the exact same conversation thanks to so called “privacy advocates” according to this article in InformationWeek. What’s more, the privacy advocates, rather than educating themselves about the real risks associated with the use of browser cookies are apparently patting themselves on the back for getting the Obama administration to make a simple, cosmetic change at WhiteHouse.gov regarding the use of YouTube video.
Giving himself full credit for the change, Chris Soghoian from CNET’s “surveli@nce st@te” blog says:
“It seems that someone in the White House read my blog post yesterday–as 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.”
Congratulations Chris. Instead of giving the President’s team the lattitude to focus on, oh, THE ECONOMY, THE THREAT OF TERRORISM, THE HOUSING CRISIS, UNEMPLOYMENT, and HEALTH CARE you single-handedly managed to force the Administration to waste their time worrying about whether or not Google was getting just a little more of the world’s data. President Obama, in the midst of rolling out a truly revolutionary use of technology in government in an effort to get more of us personally involved in our communities, our country, and our collective future, was forced by your misguided fear-mongering to stop what they were doing and address what has otherwise been hailed as a brilliant communication effort.
You sir, are the man.
Seriously people, can we stop worrying about cookies for a little while? Given all the other problems we have as a nation and as a global community, am I alone in thinking that people like Chris and his fellow “privacy advocates” need to find something else to focus their efforts on? Maybe if this community spent more time trying to help the President come up with ideas to put America back to work and less time creating fear, uncertainty, and doubt in the popular media we’d see the kind of change that our President has been talking about.
At this point I’m fairly confident that any person who has any shred of concern about their cookies being scraped, hijacked, poisoned, bombed, or otherwise maliciously used to expose their personal habits or ruin their lives has figured out how to clear or otherwise modify said cookies. Even though I started writing about the profile of the cookie deleter back in 2005, I’m still waiting for someone to give me a good reason to delete said objects that is not A) because you’re a site developer and you need to confirm how cookies are being set, B) you’re a web analytics specialist debugging tracking, C) you gamble a lot online or D) you surf a lot of porn.
If “A” or “B” I understand. If “C” or “D” … don’t forget to clear your browser history too!
I’m being snarky, I know, and maybe I’m just taking Chris to task since he still has his street-cred inducing ponytail and I cut mine off. But at this point the hand-wringing about cookies in general much less because of the mandate set by OMB M-03-22 has become tedious and needs to stop. President Obama is working to change the way government works and I think his staff deserve some latitude when it comes to the Internet. If we want government sites to work for us, we need to let analytic technology work for them. If we want change, we need to be open to change.
Put another way, if you fear Google, don’t use their products. If you fear cookies, delete them. If you fear for your privacy online, don’t go online. Wear a foil hat. Don’t answer the phone. Don’t open the door. Don’t speak.
But please people let’s decide to take some personal responsibility on this issue and stop bugging an otherwise busy administration–whichever administration that may be. Regardless of how you feel about Barack Obama, let’s all recognize that we are facing substantially bigger challenges today than we have in recent history and since the man was fairly elected he deserves at least a chance to improve the economic conditions in the U.S. without “privacy advocates” forcing his staff to make tedious (and functionally meaningless) changes to the White House web site.
I know I’m going to get slammed for this post, that’s okay. Somebody needs to stand up for cookies and since I already tried “diplomatic” I suppose it’s time to try “direct.” Browser cookies help make it possible for great companies like CNET to provide lots of great content–including Chris’s blog! Browser cookies help justify great technology like Twitter, Facebook, and MySpace. Browser cookies power the Internet and should not be feared, especially not by President Obama.
I look forward to your comments and criticisms of my position.