The White House finally has an online privacy policy you can probably understand


President Obama speaks on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington, Tuesday, April 1, 2014, during a ceremony honoring the 2013 World Series baseball champion Boston Red Sox. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Friday the White House updated its online privacy policy. The major difference? Readers might be able to actually understand it now.

"Our old privacy policy was just that -- old," wrote  Nathaniel Lubin, the White House's acting director of digital strategy in a March blog post announcing that the privacy policy would be updated. "The last substantial update occurred in 2011, and its substance remains predominantly based on an even earlier version."

While there had been minor changes since the 2011 update that are preserved in an archive page, the policy that goes into effect on Friday looks much different, even if the substance is much the same. Most, but not all, of the legalese has been stripped out -- and it's housed on an interactive page with subheadings rather than appearing as a long text document.

"We wanted our new policy to be easier to read and understand, so we've built out a new interactive page that puts this into a simpler, shorter format with plain language (or as plain as we can)," explained Lubin.

There are few significant changes. For instance, the site now makes it very clear that the White House app does not collect geolocation information. "Our online presence and infrastructure has evolved to include new capabilities, like expanded use of mobile and email technology, and we need a privacy policy that reflects that growth and which is appropriate for the rest of the Administration," Lubin wrote, explaining some of the changes.

But as some things changed, more policies stayed the same -- albeit explained in simpler terminology.

Both the previous and the current versions of the privacy policy advise users that the information they share with the White House's social media pages elsewhere will be archived in order to comply with the Presidential Records Act -- and is governed by the privacy policies of those separate third party platforms.

President Obama's election campaigns were known for being tech savvy, and the administration has tried to leverage similar tactics -- even launching the first "Office of Digital Strategy." It currently runs pages on over two dozen different third party sites, including seven Facebook pages and over 40 Twitter handles.

Andrea Peterson covers technology policy for The Washington Post, with an emphasis on cybersecurity, consumer privacy, transparency, surveillance and open government.
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