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April 18, 2014

White House updating online privacy policy

Eds: Minor edits. With AP Photos.

A new Obama administration privacy policy released Friday explains how the government will gather the user data of online visitors to WhiteHouse.gov, mobile apps and social media sites, and it clarifies that online comments, whether tirades or tributes, are in the open domain.

"Information you choose to share with the White House (directly and via third party sites) may be treated as public information," the new policy says.

The Obama administration also promises not to sell the data of online visitors. But it cannot make the same assurances for users who go to third-party White House sites on Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus.

There will be no significant changes in actual practices under the new policy. But legal jargon and bureaucratic language has been stripped out, making it easier for readers to now understand that the White House stores the date, time and duration of online visits; the originating Internet Protocol address; how much data users transmit from WhiteHouse.gov to their computers; and more. The administration also tracks whether emails from the White House are opened, forwarded or printed.

The updates were needed because "Our old privacy policy was just that - old," blogged Obama's digital director Nathaniel Lubin.

After coming to office in a campaign lauded for its online savvy, President Barack Obama's White House has quickly adapted to online engagement since taking office in 2008, embracing using the Internet in all of its manifestations. The first administration with an Office of Digital Strategy, Obama's online strategy now includes a We the People petitions platform, live online chats and more than a dozen social media sites including Google Plus, LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, Vine, MySpace and seven different Facebook pages including La Casa Blanca and Education to Innovate.

Visitors who link to those social media sites are advised: "Your activity on those sites is governed by the third-party website's security and privacy policies," which frequently allow those companies to sell users' data. In addition, the White House archives Twitter, Facebook and Google Plus content to comply with the Presidential Records Act.

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