*Privacy Advocate TrustE Questioned for Using Hit-Counting Service

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Privacy organization and seal provider TRUSTe came under fire in a report issued last week for its use of the third-party, Web site hit-counting service, TheCounter.com.

The report by security consulting and solutions firm Interhack Corp., Columbus, OH, states that TheCounter.com, which is run by Internet.com LLC, Darien, CT, has the technological ability to track users through a "third-party Web bug that makes multisite user profiling technically feasible."

TRUSTe, San Jose, CA, began using TheCounter.com's Web site traffic-monitoring service two week ago, but terminated its use of the site and last week issued a statement on its Web site announcing the action when it learned of the Interhack report, according to Dave Steer, spokesman at TRUSTe.

"As soon as we learned that there was even a shred of possibility that any information was being tied to actual people, we immediately discontinued our use of the product," said Steer.

TheCounter.com is not a member of TRUSTe's trustmark program, which awards seals of approval to sites with good privacy practices.

Despite statements made by an Internet.com executive, Interhack founder Matt Curtain said that cookies are used by TheCounter.com.

"TheCounter.com uses a nonpersistent cookie that lasts for the duration of your browser session," Curtain said.

He also noted an item in TheCounter.com's Terms and Conditions stating that information sent to the site, "becomes joint property."

TRUSTe is investigating the situation further, but is not likely to continue using TheCounter.com, Steer said.

The situation bears some similarity to the controversy over Toysrus.com, Lucy.com and Fusion.com using the analytical services of third-party tracking vendor Coremetrics. That information was brought to light in a July 31 report by Interhack.

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