The White House may have misled people who visited its website about how it tracked their online behavior.
In a forthcoming paper, a group of researchers write that thousands of top websites, including WhiteHouse.gov, have been using a new, persistent type of online tracking.
But according to the the paper, which was first reported on by ProPublica, the White House site and other sites have been using a firm called AddThis, which used a form of tracking different from cookies.
Like cookies, the AddThis “canvas fingerprinting” technique builds profiles of users based on which websites they have visited. But that tracking technique is harder to block or opt out of than cookies are.
The agency regulates only commercial practices, so it wouldn’t have jurisdiction to act against the White House or any other government agency. Brookman said it’s unlikely the FTC would even sue a company for engaging in the same practice.
But he said the incident shows why so many companies try to have the vaguest policies possible.
A White House spokesman emphasized that officials were not “using this technology to track WhiteHouse.gov users.”
Rich Harris, the CEO of AddThis, said the company used canvas fingerprinting only as a brief internal experiment and that it never shared any data collected using the technique with the White House or other clients.
“Many, many companies in the industry are exploring new technologies and methods to replace cookies,” Harris said. “The whole idea is to try and provide a better user experience, a better personalized experience, and to provide tools that are effective for our customers.”
AddThis tracks information about who is visiting the White House website and how many people are sharing information on Twitter and Facebook, he explained.
The firm can also customize sites based on information about the user. So, for example, the Tweet button on a page may appear higher than the Facebook share button for users from countries where Facebook is uncommon, he said.
The firm also uses data to target advertising, but the White House website doesn’t have any ads.
Harris argued that canvas fingerprinting is actually less invasive than traditional cookies because it provides less-accurate information on individuals. But the technique is controversial because while a user can delete or block cookies, it’s nearly impossible to opt out of canvass fingerprinting.
What We're Following See More »
"A U.S. Navy guided-missile destroyer fired a warning flare toward an Iranian Revolutionary Guard vessel coming near it in the Persian Gulf. The incident happened Monday as the vessel closed to within 1,000 meters of the USS Mahan, "despite the destroyer trying to turn away from it." After attempting to contact the Iranian vessel and sounding its whistle, it deployed the flare. After that, the ship had had enough and turned away.
U.S. District Judge William Orrick Tuesday blocked the Trump administration from enforcing part of an executive order calling for the end of federal funding to so-called sanctuary cities. The decision was followed by a scathing rebuke from the White House, a precedent-breaking activity which with this White House has had no qualms. A White House statement called the decision an "egregious overreach by a single, unelected district judge." The statement was followed by an inaccurate Wednesday morning tweetstorm from Trump, which railed against the Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. While Judge Orrick's district falls within the jurisdiction of the Ninth Circuit, Orrick himself does not serve on the Ninth Circuit.
"House Republicans are circulating the text of an amendment to their ObamaCare replacement bill that they believe could bring many conservatives on board. According to legislative text of the amendment," drafted by Rep. Tom MacArthur (R-NJ), "the measure would allow states to apply for waivers to repeal one of ObamaCare’s core protections for people with pre-existing conditions. Conservatives argue the provision drives up premiums for healthy people, but Democrats—and many more moderate Republicans—warn it would spark a return to the days when insurance companies could charge sick people exorbitantly high premiums."
President Trump on Wednesday "will order a review of national monuments created over the past 20 years with an aim toward rescinding or resizing some of them—part of a broader push to reopen areas to drilling, mining, and other development." Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told reporters on Tuesday said he'd be reviewing about 30 monuments.
"An emerging government funding deal would see Democrats agree to $15 billion in additional military funding in exchange for the GOP agreeing to fund healthcare subsidies, according to two congressional officials briefed on the talks. Facing a Friday deadline to pass a spending bill and avert a shutdown, Democrats are willing to go halfway to President Trump’s initial request of $30 billion in supplemental military funding."