As Privacy Worries Grow, TRUSTe Seeks Broader Role

The folks behind the Web’s original privacy seal program trek new terrain courtesy of a funding round from Accel Partners.

TRUSTe will use most of the investment to expand its core Web seal program, while exploring new areas where it can confer “trusted” status to firms it deems rigorous in their consumer privacy practices. TRUSTe and Accel did not disclose the amount of the cash infusion, but reports pegged it at about $10 million.

Among the categories of marketing and Web services where TRUSTe may create programs are behavioral targeting, social networking, phishing, and mobile location-based services.

TRUSTe CEO Fran Maier called behavioral targeting “an important issue for everyone right now,” and noted that dominant Web companies such as Google and Microsoft have asked for a federal privacy law to define permissible uses of consumers’ online data.

“It’s clear that we need cross industry leadership to outline best practices,” she said. “I do expect that we’ll be convening and pushing much stronger transparency in notice and strong and persistent choice mechanisms as well as other best practices.”

TRUSTe today monitors the privacy practices of some 2,400 Web sites, which pay to have their those practices audited by the firm and are allowed to carry the TRUSTe seal on their site as a result. Many customers are large sites, such as eBay, Microsoft, Apple, and Boy Scouts of America.

Maier’s aim is to expand that membership to a wider swath of Web publishers, and to automate compliance monitoring.

“We will expand our reach to small and medium-sized business by bringing more technology to our processes,” said Maier, who added speed is of the essence. “Since we’re not a raw startup we can put it to work quickly for impact.”

With the move TRUSTe will cease to be a non-profit organization. However Maier insisted the investment does not stipulate or assume TRUSTe will eventually be sold, as is often the case with Internet investments.

“The idea here is to build a great company,” she said. “How terrific is this world where you can raise capital to bring trust to the Internet?”

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