Future of Privacy Forum Letter to the White Office of Science and Technology Policy






Following is the test of the letter we sent to the White House in response to the call for feedback on the President’s memo on Openness and Transparency

April 3, 2009

Dear Ms. Noveck:

The Future of Privacy Forum is providing the below suggestions to offer a roadmap for enabling use of analysis, site optimization and tracking technologies by government agencies.  Personalizing site content for users, enabling log term shopping carts and improving site usage are key to providing the public the best possible web experience and these functions are reliant on cookies and other technologies currently limited by various approval requirements.  As a result, agencies may end up either forgoing the use, or they seek approval but may not seek to establish additional necessary controls to ensure these technologies are used in the most privacy friendly manner.

We provide below practical guidelines that could enable the use of cookies to better serve the public as desired by many government web managers.  Some of these concepts are already in place at some of the most progressive private sector companies, and government leadership in this area would spur wider adoption of these practices that both optimize the user experience and ensure privacy and transparency in data use.

We propose that the current restrictions on cookies and similar technologies be abolished.  In their place should be requirements that establish leading practices for such technology practices.

Ensuring that Interactive Tools used by Government Provide Users with Enhanced Transparency and Controls for Data Collection and Retention

Analytics, Research or Others Using Cookies, Tracking Pixels or Other Tools

1. Delete log-files after a defined period of time.

a. Data retention periods for “non-personal” log-files vary widely across vendors, are not publicly disclosed and are rarely committed to contractually.

2. Cookies should have limited expiration periods and should not be used to store information unprotected.

3. IP addresses logged by vendors should be obscured or deleted as soon as possible.

a. Some vendors can use and then immediately scramble IP addresses as they log them.

4. The use of the tools and user options should be transparent and prominently explained.

5. Consider implications of use of “first party” White House domain for analytics, rather than “third party” domain, to avoid potential for unwanted correlation.

6. Contractual representations barring use of data for purposes other than services contracted, other than aggregate reporting.

We will be pleased to provide further detail about the above upon request.


Jules Polonetsky

Future Of Privacy Forum