Non-profit Internet privacy organisation TRUSTe allowed an outside company to track visitors to its Web site without visitors' permission or knowledge, according to Interhack Corp, an Internet security firm.
TRUSTe contracted with The counter.com, a subsidiary of Internet. com, to track visitor page views on the www.truste.org Web site, according to Matt Curtin, president of Interhack. In addition to using cookies to track visitors, Thecounter.com placed "Web bugs" - invisible markers one pixel wide with date and time coding data - onto the pages as well, he said. "That's the critical thing - they're tracking without cookies," he said.
By comparing the unique date-time stamp assigned to each Web bug, Thecounter.com could tell if a particular visitor had been to the site before, as long as the visitor's cache of Web pages - and Web bugs - had not been emptied, he said. Further, Thecounter.com could compile a profile of a user by comparing Web bugs potentially placed on any of the Web sites operated by the tracking company's clients, added Curtin. More than 900,000 Web sites use Thecounter.com.
TRUSTe said in a statement that it had ended its relationship with Internet.com, adding it chose the service "solely on the belief that Internet.com was not collecting any personally identifiable information on visitors to the TRUSTe Web site."