On Friday, June 25, the White House Office of Management and the Budget changed the rules for federal Internet sites. Memorandum m-10-22 “establishes new procedures and provides updated guidance and requirements for agency use of Web measurement and customization technologies.” In issuing the new guidelines, OMB Director Peter Orzag wrote, “The central goal is to respect and safeguard the privacy of the American public while also increasing the federal government’s ability to serve the public by improving and modernizing its activities online. Any use of such technologies must be respectful of privacy, open, and transparent, and solely for the purposes of improving the federal government’s services and activities online.”
You can find the full text of the Memorandum at www.whitehouse.gov/omb/assets/memoranda_2010/m10-22.pdf.
A well-thought-out move
To understand the implications of this change, some background is helpful. For the past year, the OMB has been revaluating the use of “persistent cookies” by federal websites. In contrast to “session cookies” which expire when you close your browser, a “persistent cookie” consists of a software code that stays on your computer. A site can store the cookie until it reaches its expiration date or you delete it. Each time you return to the site, it can recognize “you”, tracking your behavior and noting your preferences.
So glad this is finally being changed. If agencies want to err on the safe side, just put specific instructions on their site about how to manage cookies so people can review if they’d like.