Obama tries YouTube alternative

Ongoing negotiations between the White House and Google took an unexpected turn in late February when President Barack Obama’s weekly address was sent via an in-house video player rather than Google’s YouTube service.

The change sparked a flurry of debate and speculation. Although Obama has posted videos on YouTube for some time, negotiations for the administration’s long-term use of the service have been complicated by disputes about Google’s terms of service.

White House officials told the New York Times that they used the in-house video player to test new methods of presenting Obama’s addresses. They said they were trying to gain a better understanding of the White House’s internal capabilities, and the move was not meant to suggest that the White House was withdrawing from third-party solutions, as many observers had suggested.

Google spokesman Scott Rubin said the White House and other federal agencies continue to use YouTube.

Days after the February video address, Bev Godwin, director of the General Services Administration's USA.gov, said the agency is close to resolving the terms-of-service issues with YouTube and several other social-media Web sites. Godwin is currently detailed to the White House and is a point person in the negotiations.

The main sticking points involve the process and jurisdiction in which disputes would be resolved and questions over whether the government would be required to reimburse Google for any money the company spends to resolve a dispute. Where the terms of service and federal law clash, the parties must agree on changes.

Privacy issues associated with using YouTube have long been a problem for the federal government, said Mark McCreary, a partner at law firm Fox Rothschild and an expert on Internet law.

YouTube uses cookies to track user statistics, which violates the rules for government Web sites. Google provided the White House with a version of the company’s embedded player that does not send a cookie until the visitor plays the video.

Although the tweaked version of YouTube might help the White House comply with federal law, McCreary said, officials probably tried their own video player because they are looking for more control over the administration’s content.

“The White House was more interested in getting into something they control for themselves,” he said. “They don’t have to worry about a third party really having control over that content and getting their fingers on, so to speak, the users themselves.”

The White House’s move should also be a signal that all social-media providers must comply with federal rules if they want to work with the government, McCreary said.

About the Author

Doug Beizer is a staff writer for Federal Computer Week.

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