Akamai Mum on Presidential Video Plans

3/3/09Follow @wroush

Rather than sending President Obama’s weekly Web video address to YouTube for hosting, as it has in past weeks, the White House published last Saturday’s video on its own website, Whitehouse.gov, which is hosted by Akamai. But an Akamai official says the company can’t comment on whether the widely discussed decision signals a permanent turn away from YouTube, which has been criticized for its use of cookies to track viewing patterns.

Cambridge, MA-based Akamai owns one of the world’s largest Web content distribution networks, and specializes in delivering broadband content such as video. As ReadWriteWeb and other blogs have noted, a simple “whois” search shows that it’s the host for the Whitehouse.gov domain.

The president’s webcasts had come to be known informally as the “the weekly YouTube address.” But YouTube uses persistent cookies, small files stored on users’ hard drives, to track who’s watching its videos, and federal policy forbids such persistent cookies on government sites. To the dismay of privacy advocates, the administration carved out an exemption to the rules for YouTube shortly after the inauguration, and observers such as Chris Soghoian, a fellow at Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet and Society, interpreted Saturday’s change as a response to the privacy concerns.

But according to a White House statement quoted last night in the New York Times Bits Blog, the administration hasn’t changed its policy on YouTube videos. Saturday’s switch was merely an experiment, White House spokesman Nick Shapiro said. Google itself weighed in later on its public policy blog, saying that the reports that the White House had ditched YouTube were wrong. The company added that it has now created an embeddable video player that handles cookies in a way that’s more consistent with federal privacy policies.

Curious about Akamai’s role in all this, I wrote today to Jeff Young, the company’s director of corporate communications. I asked him whether Akamai had worked directly with the White House to embed Saturday’s address, whether Akamai’s video player technology sidesteps the concern over cookies, and whether the company has any insight into the White House’s Web video plans. Young was unable to provide any answers. “I can’t comment on any of this, at this time,” he said in an e-mail reply.

Wade Roush is a contributing editor at Xconomy. Follow @wroush

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