Feeds

US mega retailer settles spyware charges

Sears promises to spy no more

Beginner's guide to SSL certificates

One of the biggest US retailers has agreed to settle charges brought by federal authorities that it snuck privacy-stealing software from ComScore onto customers' machines.

Sears Holding Corporation, owner of Sears, Roebuck and Co. and Kmart, has agreed to delete all the information harvested by the software, which pried into customers' most intimate web habits. The company also agreed to be more upfront about any information it may collect in the future. The agreement by Sears came in a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission in which the company didn't admit it violated any laws.

As privacy advocates documented early last year, Sears sent emails to people shortly after they provided their address at Sears.com inviting them to join an "exciting online community." In fact, it was a pitch to install software from web research outfit ComScore that monitored their every online move.

No, we're not exaggerating. According to the FTC complaint, information collected included "not only information about websites consumers visited and links that they clicked, but also the text of secure pages, such as online banking statements, video rental transactions, library borrowing histories, online drug prescription records, and select header fields that could show the sender, recipient, subject, and size of web-based email messages." The software recorded in real-time "certain non-internet-related activities taking place on those computers" as well.

And as we've pointed out before, the ComScore snoopware goes as far as monitoring a user's precise mouse movements and keystrokes in an attempt to identify different people using the same monitored machine.

Privacy advocates and, eventually, the FTC took Sears to task because it didn't bother to disclose the information was being collected until page 10 of a 54-page privacy statement that was 2,971 words long. Ben Edelman, a Harvard University professor who is a frequent critic of spyware companies, said the document failed to meet standards established when the FTC settled with Direct Revenue and Zango over the lack of disclosure in their software. (Both companies have since gone out of business).

"Respondent failed to disclose adequately that the software application, when installed, would" monitor just about every internet activity taking place on the machine, including those protected by secure sessions, a complaint filed by FTC lawyers stated. "Respondent’s failure to disclose these facts, in light of the representations made, was, and is, a deceptive practice."

The FTC action makes no mention of separate allegations that a Sears website failed to adequately protect consumer information. According to a lawsuit filed last year, private customer purchase history of Managemyhome.com members was available to anyone who had the person's name, address, and phone number.

But Edelman said the FTC settlement amounted to a victory anyway. And he gave Sears credit for fessing up to the debacle.

"Sears to their credit fixed many of the most egregious problems after public concern," he told The Register. "Because Sears took some steps on its own, its harder to be as angry at them as you might be. Of course, it would be better if they hadn't done it in the first place." ®

Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL

More from The Register

next story
Spies would need SUPER POWERS to tap undersea cables
Why mess with armoured 10kV cables when land-based, and legal, snoop tools are easier?
Early result from Scots indyref vote? NAW, Jimmy - it's a SCAM
Anyone claiming to know before tomorrow is telling porkies
Apple Pay is a tidy payday for Apple with 0.15% cut, sources say
Cupertino slurps 15 cents from every $100 purchase
Israeli spies rebel over mass-snooping on innocent Palestinians
'Disciplinary treatment will be sharp and clear' vow spy-chiefs
YouTube, Amazon and Yahoo! caught in malvertising mess
Cisco says 'Kyle and Stan' attack is spreading through compromised ad networks
Hackers pop Brazil newspaper to root home routers
Step One: try default passwords. Step Two: Repeat Step One until success
China hacked US Army transport orgs TWENTY TIMES in ONE YEAR
FBI et al knew of nine hacks - but didn't tell TRANSCOM
Microsoft to patch ASP.NET mess even if you don't
We know what's good for you, because we made the mess says Redmond
NORKS ban Wi-Fi and satellite internet at embassies
Crackdown on tardy diplomatic sysadmins providing accidental unfiltered internet access
prev story

Whitepapers

Providing a secure and efficient Helpdesk
A single remote control platform for user support is be key to providing an efficient helpdesk. Retain full control over the way in which screen and keystroke data is transmitted.
WIN a very cool portable ZX Spectrum
Win a one-off portable Spectrum built by legendary hardware hacker Ben Heck
Saudi Petroleum chooses Tegile storage solution
A storage solution that addresses company growth and performance for business-critical applications of caseware archive and search along with other key operational systems.
Protecting users from Firesheep and other Sidejacking attacks with SSL
Discussing the vulnerabilities inherent in Wi-Fi networks, and how using TLS/SSL for your entire site will assure security.
Security for virtualized datacentres
Legacy security solutions are inefficient due to the architectural differences between physical and virtual environments.