Obama's CIO Hopes to Unjar Internet Cookies
By Cecilia Kang
These days, surfing Amazon.com can feel like visiting the corner pharmacist who remembers all your past ailments. The online retailer recalls that you recently bought "Harry Potter," so suggests you read "Twilight." It reminds you of the other J.K. Rowling books you left in your shopping cart -- and then tries to sell you wizard Halloween costumes.
By using a technology called cookies, which track where Internet users travel over the Web, sites like Amazon.com are able to draw a portrait of a customer and sell products based on that data. Now, the Obama administration is thinking about using the same technology to track visitors to Federal agency Web sites.
Are you a frequent visitor to the Federal Bureau of Investigation's Most Wanted List? The FBI may soon know. If you've recently looked up the latest on the Swine Flu outbreak and how to treat symptoms with antiviral drugs, the Center of Disease Control will have that information from cookies left on your browser from visiting their Web site.
The practice using cookies, which has been controversial because of concerns over user privacy, is being revisited by the nation's Chief Information Officer, Vivek Kundra, as part of the administration's push to revise the Web and technology policies of federal agencies and make government more transparent. Internet cookies are currently prohibited on federal agency Web sites unless approved by the head of an agency because of a "compelling need," Kundra wrote in a blog post last Friday.
"The goal of this review is to develop a new policy that allows the federal government to continue to protect the privacy of people who visit federal Web sites while, at the same time, making these Web sites more user-friendly, providing better customer service, and allowing for enhanced Web analytics," he wrote, along with co-author Michael Fitzpatrick, the associate administrator of the Office of Management and Budget's Office of Information and Regulatory Affairs.
The administration is opening up the debate to the public. Got opinions? Submit them through www.whitehouse.gov/open by Aug. 10.
Posted at 2:35 PM ET on Jul 27, 2009
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