Today, the White House announced the US’s first Federal CIO. This news comes on the heels of grumbling about privacy concerns from the government using cookies at all. Additionally, the FTC just released a Position Paper (PDF) relating to online Behavorial Advertising and 1st party versus 3rd party approaches. Obama’s administration is clearly beginning to take a stand on changing the role of analytics in the public sector, and I think it warrants additional discussion.
The US government has an interesting relationship with technology. On the one hand, they have top secret projects that utilize the most advanced technology in the world. On the other hand, they can’t display dynamic content on their pages because of a law from the Clinton administration requiring web content to be archived.
I find this double standard fascinating when Americans largely claim we are a democracy that is powered by free speech, aka open communication. All of the talk about tracking and cookies seems as pointless as debating the use of mobile phones. Certainly, both may pose risks if not used properly, but both are absolutely essential tools in today’s world. Cookies are one of the few ways we can efficiently assess the needs online visitors and adjust web sites to their preferences.
We’re fine with the military having satellites that can read our license plates (and not find Bin Laden), but we’re worried about whether or not they know how we are using their websites and whether the same anonymous person comes back multiple times (this can be valuable information for improving the design of a website). The funny thing is that those who have the most information about each and every one of us sit in the private sector today Are any of you really aware of the detailed information that the ad agencies pick up on all of us every day and use to retarget further downstream? ISP’s are selling this data all over the net. You as advertisers pay additional fees to the networks to use your own customer’s data to retarget ads back to your customers. Google probably has more data on each of you than the FBI.
We’ve been having discussions about privacy and access to information in the consumer space for a while. Enterprises are down the road on this them as well. Now, thanks to the Obama administration, we’re embarking on a new debate about how privacy and information control play out in government.
Well, that’s not entirely accurate. Every four years since Clinton launched the first version of the White House’s website in 1994, people have beat the drum of privacy concerns. But, the Whitehouse.gov has traditionally lagged behind the unfolding edge of Internet technology, so the debate has been quieter in the past. Now, Obama can be our friend on Twitter and offers us content to make our own YouTube videos. As the gap closes between consumer social media and government adoption, people are suddenly realizing that we need to talk about what we want our online interaction with the government to look like. We need to reexamine issues of privacy and information control. We need to know what kind of relationship we want with the government and how do we want to communicate with them, as well as how we want them to communicate with others.
In an interview today, Mr. Kundra talked about their position on transparency and the challenges they face:
“There is a lot of data the federal government has and we need to make sure that all the data that is not private, or restricted for national security reasons, can be made public,” he said.
Mr. Kundra did not play down the challenge to the bureaucracy that will happen by inviting the public to comment on programs and point out areas of abuse. Someone, after all, will have to read all those public comments.
“A two-way interaction between the government and its citizens,” he said, “will require a massive transformation by the government, on the back end, to ensure the government can deal with this new reality.”
Along with that massive transformation comes a lot of national introspection.