The Sears Holdings Corporation has agreed to settle charges made by the Federal Trade Commission alleging that the corporation was not upfront about its use of spyware.
According to the FTC's administrative complaint, while Sears told consumers the software would only track their "online browsing," the software also monitored their online secure sessions -- including sessions on third parties' Web sites. That meant everything from online bank statements to drug prescription records to the sender, recipient, subject and size fields of Web-based e-mails.
The software also tracked some computer activities that were not related to the Internet, according to the FTC.
Under the proposed settlement, Sears would agree to "stop collecting data from the consumers who downloaded the software and to destroy all data it had previously collected," the FTC said in a release June 4. "In addition, if Sears advertises or disseminates any tracking software in the future, it must clearly and prominently disclose the types of data the software will monitor, record or transmit. This disclosure must be made prior to installation and separate from any user license agreement" and customers must be told if "any of the data will be used by a third party."
The release continued, "According to the FTC complaint, Sears invited certain customers visiting the sears.com and kmart.com Websites to become members of the 'My SHC Community.' ... Sears paid consumers $10 to participate. As part of this process, Sears asked consumers to download 'research' software it said would confidentially track their 'online browsing.' Only in a lengthy user license agreement, available to consumers at the end of a multistep registration process, did Sears disclose the full extent of the information the software tracked, according to the complaint."
The settlement "will be subject to public comment for 30 days, beginning today [June 5] and continuing through July 6, 2009, after which the Commission will decide whether to make it final. To file a public comment," click here (PDF) for instructions.