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EPIC Forces Disclosure of Government Contracts with Social Media Companies, Privacy Terms Missing


In response to an EPIC Freedom of Information Act Request, the Government Services Administration released several contracts between the federal government and web 2.0 companies, including agreements with, Blist, Google (YouTube), Yahoo (Flickr), and MySpace.

On April 30, 2009, EPIC filed a FOIA request with the GSA requesting (1) all agreements between federal agencies and social networking services, cloud computing services, and/or vendors of other similar services; (2) all records, including memoranda and legal opinions, concerning the application of the Privacy Act of 1974 and the Freedom of Information Act to social networking services, cloud computing services, and/or other similar services, and (3) all instructions, policies and/or procedures concerning the collection, storage, transmission, and use of information about users of social networking or cloud computing services by federal agencies.

The EPIC FOIA request was made after the a news article stated that the GSA had signed agreements with social networking and cloud computing service providers concerning federal agencies' use of Web 2.0 services. The GSA often enters into contracts on behalf of multiple federal agencies in an effort to promote efficiency in government contracting. The news report also stated that a coalition of agencies have been working with private corporations to develop terms of service for federal agencies' participation in social media
companies. The article cited a GSA official as stating that some of the areas of concern involved liability limits, endorsements and freedom of information.

Generally, the nine agreements obtained by EPIC state the Government's obligation to comply with federal law, and explicitly note obligations to comply with privacy or freedom of information laws. These contracts include companies like MySpace,, Flickr,,,, and BLIST. However, Facebook and Google (YouTube) contracts do not affirmatively express the Agency's obligations to comply with these laws. Further, the Google/YouTube contract explicitly authorizes the use of persistent cookies when it states that "[p]rovider acknowledges that, except as expressly set forth in this Agreement, Google uses persistent cookies in connection with that YouTube Video Player. To the extent that any rules or guidelines exist prohibiting the use of persistent cookies in connection with the Provider Content applies to Google, Provider expressly waives those rules or guidelines as they may apply to Google."

EPIC also discovered that contracts with the GSA consistently omit statements concerning Web 2.0 service providers' obligations to protect privacy. Whereas most privacy policies state how a website processes information, it is actually intended as a disclaimer of liability and does not provide any protection in and of itself. Given the fact that the data collection practices of federal agencies and their contractors are routinely subject to the federal Privacy Act, this omission is significant.


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European Commission: Consultation on Personal Data Protection

Consultation due on December 31, 2009




This is a listing of events which may be useful for civil society to participate, connect and network on issues relating to information and communication technologies and policies.


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Past Events

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OECD 2008 Ministerial Meeting on the Future of the Internet Economy

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Civil Society Privacy Conference
Sept. 25, 2007

OECD Participative Web Forum
Oct. 3, 2007

Past Public Events

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Participation in the World Summit on the Information Society Internet Governance Caucus »

Civil Society Background Paper

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