Beta Test Takes Aim at Web Bugs

Nonprofit consumer education group Privacy Foundation is beta testing software that it claims detects Web bugs when they appear on Web pages or in e-mails and informs users that they are being tracked.

Web bugs are graphics embedded in Web pages or in e-mail messages to track site visitors or readers of e-mail. They are generally used to track Web site visitors.

The software, which plugs into a user's browser, was designed to notify users each time that a Web bug is present. Although a limited group is testing the software, the foundation plans to make it available to consumers next month.

In August, Privacy Foundation, Denver, issued an advisory on its Web site to raise consumer awareness of the existence of Web bugs.

In September, the group proposed guidelines for the use of Web bugs and sent them to 40 Internet marketing companies and trade groups.

The privacy group's guidelines called for icons indicating that Web bugs are present; identification of origin; full disclosure of the bug's functions; the ability for the visitor to opt out; and the exclusion of bugs at pages of a sensitive nature, such as medical and financial pages.

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