Matt Coneybeare

MC

Public Domain Fail - Whitehouse.gov Is Blocking Access to Public RSS Feeds and Content.

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UPDATE: 7/12/10 10:16PM

All functionality seems to have been restored. Whether this was a hiccup in the system (probable) or a reversal of the blocking we will never know.  I am just glad that it has been resolved with minimal emails/posts on my part.

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I have an iPhone app called Obama Speeches. It is an app that publishes the weekly addresses of the President, along with other important speeches made by him. All content is in the public domain, and the content is retrieved from public URL’s. I have been using the same script for over a year to automatically pull down the content, until today. I started getting 404’s.

A quick wget of the feed URL confirmed this to be true:

[ps6736]$ wget http://www.whitehouse.gov/podcast/video/weekly-addresses/rss.xml
--07:03:09--  http://www.whitehouse.gov/podcast/video/weekly-addresses/rss.xml
           => `rss.xml'
Resolving www.whitehouse.gov... 65.200.11.24, 65.200.11.25
Connecting to www.whitehouse.gov|65.200.11.24|:80... connected.
HTTP request sent, awaiting response... 404 Not Found
07:03:10 ERROR 404: Not Found.

Hmmm. I checked on a few other machines and found that it was going through fine. WTF? I tried using CURL, open-uri and other forms of fetching the RSS feed from whitehouse.gov but they still blocked me or redirected my requests from this machine. Every attempt to connect from other machines worked fine.

coneybeare $ wget http://www.whitehouse.gov/podcast/video/weekly-addresses/rss.xml
--2010-07-12 10:03:45--  http://www.whitehouse.gov/podcast/video/weekly-addresses/rss.xml
Resolving www.whitehouse.gov... 64.81.79.72, 64.81.79.70
Connecting to www.whitehouse.gov|64.81.79.72|:80... connected.
HTTP request sent, awaiting response... 200 OK
Length: 97387 (95K) [application/rss+xml]
Saving to: `rss.xml'

100%[=====================================>] 97,387       239K/s   in 0.4s

2010-07-12 10:03:46 (239 KB/s) - `rss.xml' saved [97387/97387]

I also checked other URL’s to make sure this machine actually was connected an lo and behold, I could get a connection. Don’t worry, I have it working again through tunneling into other machines to fetch the feed but I shouldn’t have to — Public domain is public domain.

I think that whitehouse.gov is unhappy with my app (and it’s success) competing with theirs and tried to take me down. The problem is that I am doing nothing illegal here and they have no right to block access to the public feeds and content. Of course, saying this makes me a conspiracy theorist but what else can I deduce from the situation?

Hey US Gov: If you have a problem with my frequency or method of fetching the public data, please try to contact me instead of shutting me off completely.

Comments

My name is Matt Coneybeare, I design and develop for iOS (iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch), Mac OS X and the Web out of New York. In 2008 I started a software company called Urban Apps that has made some pretty popular apps such as Ambiance and Hourly News. My current Stack Overflow reputation is about 27k.

I was a Rockstar a decade ago, but then went back to school and collected a Bachelor's Degree in Computer Science from U.C. Berkeley. Now I am settled down with my beautiful wife Di and our two doggies Hamachi and Foxy. While coding, I walk several miles/day on my Treadmill Desk. When not at my desk, I love exploring New York City as a Yelp Elite, or training for marathons.

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