Feeds

Sears admits to joining spyware biz

On page 10 of 54-page diatribe

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

A Harvard researcher has accused one of America's biggest retailers of sneaking privacy-stealing spyware from ComScore onto customers' machines.

Sears Holding Corporation, owner of Sears, Roebuck and Co. and Kmart, makes the pitch in an email sent to people shortly after they provide their address at Sears.com. Clicking the "Join" button invokes a dialog that requests the person's name, address and household size before installing ComScore spyware that monitors every site visited on the computer.

Sears' leap into the spyware business was first documented by Computer Associates researcher Benjamin Googins, who determined the notice to end users was inadequate. Yesterday, Harvard researcher Ben Edelman weighed in and came to largely the same conclusion.

It's not that Sears fails to notify users it intends to spy on them. Indeed, the email sent to users states that the application "monitors all of the internet behavior that occurs on the computer on which you install the application, including...filling a shopping basket, completing an application form, or checking your...personal financial or health information."

The rub is that this unusually frank warning comes on page 10 of a 54-page privacy statement that is 2,971 words long. Edelman, who is a frequent critic of spyware companies, said the Sears document fails to meet standards established by the Federal Trade Commission when it settled with Direct Revenue and Zango over the lack of disclosure about the extent of their snoopware.

"The Sears SHC installation of ComScore falls far short of these rules," Edelman writes. "The limited SHC disclosure provided by email lacks the required specificity as to the nature, purpose, and effects of the ComScore software."

He also criticizes the Sears installation because it identifies the software as "VoiceFive" and later claims it's coming from a company called TMRG, Inc." even though a packet sniffer confirms the software belongs to ComScore.

"If SHC used the company name 'ComScore' or the product name 'RelevantKnowledge,' users could run a search at any search engine," he argues. "These confusing name-changes fit the trend among spyware vendors."

Responding to the initial CA blog post, a Sears vice president vigorously defends the practice, saying the retailer "goes to great lengths to describe the tracking aspect" of the software. He also claims a progress bar during the installation of the software gives users an easy way to back out if they change their minds, but Edelman said no such bar was displayed during his tests. ®

Mobile application security vulnerability report

More from The Register

next story
LibreSSL RNG bug fix: What's all the forking fuss about, ask devs
Blow to bit-spitter 'tis but a flesh wound, claim team
Manic malware Mayhem spreads through Linux, FreeBSD web servers
And how Google could cripple infection rate in a second
NUDE SNAPS AGENCY: NSA bods love 'showing off your saucy selfies'
Swapping other people's sexts is a fringe benefit, says Snowden
Own a Cisco modem or wireless gateway? It might be owned by someone else, too
Remote code exec in HTTP server hands kit to bad guys
British data cops: We need greater powers and more money
You want data butt kicking, we need bigger boots - ICO
Crooks fling banking Trojan at Japanese smut site fans
Wait - they're doing online banking with an unpatched Windows PC?
NIST told to grow a pair and kick NSA to the curb
Lrn2crypto, oversight panel tells US govt's algorithm bods
prev story

Whitepapers

Reducing security risks from open source software
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Application security programs and practises
Follow a few strategies and your organization can gain the full benefits of open source and the cloud without compromising the security of your applications.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Consolidation: the foundation for IT and business transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.