The script sends more than two dozen system configuration details, including the referring URL that brought the user to the WhiteHouse.gov site; the ID of any WebTrends cookie already installed on the visitor's system; the language the browser is set to; time since last visit; current time; and whether Java, Flash, and Silverlight are installed.
Jascha Kaykas-Wolff, VP of marketing at WebTrends, explained that the client determines whether search information is tracked for site analysis purposes and that it's useful data for Web site managers who want to figure out what content site users are looking for.
WebTrends insists this isn't the case. "Our customers own their data," said Eric Butler, director of engineering at WebTrends. "We do not have any rights outside of the rights that they give us to store and maintain the data for us. It's truly an extension of their organization and ownership of the data. The data is stored in a Tier 4, very secure data center. And the only thing that the customer does is access it through our secure reporting interface and product to gain insight into their data."
Auerbach questions that assertion. "I would suggest that since the collection, aggregation, and conveyance of the data to WebTrends is from the user's computer and not from WhiteHouse.gov that a very strong argument can be made that the data belongs to the user, not WhiteHouse.gov," he said in an e-mail. "If they are, to take the other road, asserting that WhiteHouse.gov owns the data, then we must then recognize that since WhiteHouse.gov is a U.S. federal government entity, [the data] may be governed by the Privacy Act of 1974 and other applicable privacy laws. And those laws constrain the dissemination of government data to private companies unless those companies undertake the same limitations that are imposed upon the government."
2 of 4