Feds: Sears duped and spied on its customers online

After enticing customers to participate in an online marketing study, the company that owns Sears and Kmart spied on them -- capturing their secure web use and spending, the Federal Trade Commission alleged recently in a case against the company. Sears Holdings Management Corp. today settled that case, agreeing to stop the practices, instruct their customers how uninstall the software that had been watching them and to destroy the data that was collected.

Here's what happened...

Sears recruited participants in its marketing study off its web site and paid participants $10 if they downloaded and retained the software. They were told the software for "My SHC Community" would allow them to "participate in exciting, engaging, and on-going interactions – always on your terms and always by your choice." They also were told the software would only monitor their online browsing, the FTC said.

Instead, the FTC said, Sears' software captured secured sessions from participants including online banking, drug prescriptions and even library borrowing history. In addition, the FTC said, Sears also was able to see certain information from web-based email programs and even from some non-Internet computer activity.


Sears was unapologetic and admitted no wrongdoing in settling the case. In a statement, the company maintains that it was above-board with participants.


"Sears Holdings takes the safety and security of our customers' private information very seriously. The company conducted a research project nearly two years ago with a small panel of consumers who were recruited online to better understand the surfing behavior of US retail customers," the company's statement said. "The panelists were informed upfront of the nature of the work being conducted and were paid for their participation in the study. At all times, Sears Holdings ensured the privacy and security of the personal information of all participants who enrolled in the program. We also worked to ensure best practices of its disclosures and notifications to panelists."

The company said that all the personal information gathered has already been destroyed and that the software was removed, adding, "No tracking software is being deployed on any of Sears Holdings' sites or communities."

You can decide for yourself. Read the marketing materials here.

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