Researchers Accuse Sears Of Distributing Spyware

Not content with having some of retail’s worst customer service, Sears has decided to wring out more dollars from its customers by jumping into the spyware game. Sears recently sent out an email inviting customers to join “My SHC Community” where they will have a chance to earn fabulous prizes and journal their online shopping experience. All you gotta do is provide your address and install a little ComScore program that monitors your every single step on the internet, from Sears to Myspace to your online banking, to your email headers.

Separate analysis by researchers Benjamin Googins and Ben Edelman find that there is insufficient disclosure throughout the advertisement and registration process about the tracking program’s true nature.

In response to Ben Googins posts, Sears VP Rob Harles says that SHC “goes to great lengths to describe the tracking aspect.” Harles says “[c]lear notice appears in the invitation”, “on the first signup page”, and “in the privacy policy and user licensing agreement.”

Now, I took a look at the pitch emails and the installation sequence and I think a reasonably savvy user would recognize these warning signs: 1) looks lame 2) vague mention of “research” program’s installation 3) Pop-up box warns of installation of unnamed program by company you’ve never heard of – and abandon installation. But it’s possible that novice users could be caught unawares and unwittingly give permission for their entire internet existence to be documented by market researchers – and who knows what they’ll do with that information.

Sears admits to joining spyware biz [The Register] (Thanks to S.R.!)

Comments

Edit Your Comment

  1. SavingFreak says:

    Just another example of Sears going down the toilet. They just need to scrap the Sears/Kmart names and start with an entirely new approach with a new name. They have some really good brands (craftsman, Martha Stewart, Lands End, etc.) They could easily become a problem for Wal-Mart and Target if they would just change the culture inside the company.

  2. vaxman says:

    Lamers… The key to getting my money is respecting my privacy.

  3. AstroPig7 says:

    I think the real subterfuge is in the fact that the licence agreement changes depending on whether or not one is viewing it with the “spyware” installed. An update to Googins’ blog gives more details, but basically the wording changes between “monitors all Internet behavior” and “provide superior service” (or something similar).

  4. Omi says:

    You forgot to mention that this is illegal as well.

  5. IrisMR says:

    @AstroPig7: I just read that link you gave… Boy, they are such slime. I wonder how much money Sears get out of this from comscore.

  6. IphtashuFitz says:

    These days the only reason I set foot in a Sears store is because I can usually find decent parking on that side of the shopping mall and I just walk through the Sears store to get to the stores I really want to visit.

  7. Shappie says:

    They have been going down hill for years. I have not shopped there for years, in the store or online. I have heard nothing but bad news from this company for a long time.

    …as if they needed another reason for us to hate them.

  8. Omi says:

    @IphtashuFitz: Ha! I do the same thing at the mall.

  9. IrisMR says:

    @IphtashuFitz: I do the same thing too – sorta. I go by bus but Sears is just always the closest door.

    Unfortunately I have to hold my breath as I enter the mall because of the unlivable perfume section you have to go through to exit to the mall. Damn, what the hell is wrong with these folks?

  10. 3 days into the new year and already Sears wants to be in the running for Worst Business Move.

  11. Juliekins says:

    It’s possible users will be caught unawares? Try guaranteed. Most people (Consumerist readers excepted, you all are weirdos that pay attention and look gift horses in the mouth) will click OK to anything to get it out of their faces. Failing that, they’ll think the software is required to use the site or that it really will bring them cash!!1!!1 and prizes!1!!1!ONE!!! if they install it.

    God, Sears sucks.

  12. HRHKingFriday says:

    @FitJulie: Srsly.

    My mom finally discovered “the u-tube”.

  13. Imaginary_Friend says:

    “Here is a summary of what the software does and how it is used. The proxy:

    * 1. Monitors and transmits a copy of all Internet traffic going from and coming to the compromised system.
    * 2. Monitors secure sessions (websites beginning with ‘https’), which may include shopping or banking sites.
    * 3. Records and transmits “the pace and style with which you enter information online…”
    * 4. Parses the header section of personal emails.
    * 5. May combine any data intercepted with additional information like “select credit bureau information” and other sources like “consumer preference reporting companies or credit reporting agencies”.

    In addition, My SHC Community requires a variety of personal information during registration – like name, email, address, city, state, and age. All of this information can be correlated with intercepted data to create a comprehensive profile.”

    Holy shit, dude. I smell class action lawsuits!

    Sears just “won” the Sony “The Spyware Who Loved Me” Douche of the Year award. Well played, Sears. Well played.

  14. AT203 says:

    Disclosure or not, why would Sears want to be involved with such a slimy practice? Is Sears really that desperate for revenue? I mean, yeah, I’m sure there is a very small amount of money to be made by partnering with a spyware company, but that isn’t Sears core competency, why would they want to alienate their customers by doing this? You know, they pay these executives such big salaries, but none of them have any clue of how to proceed in the new economy. I mean, just look what is happening to the music industry because of their pathological inability to embrace and benefit from new technological opportunities… Shame on Sears.

  15. bohemian says:

    Sears really IS that desperate for revenue. The last time I was in one of their stores the clerks spent more time repeatedly trying to badger me into getting a Sears card then they did taking my money.

    Sears is looking for any revenue they can get to prop up almost non-existent store sales. The whole place has become some surreal retail nightmare that is its own worst enemy. Lousy service, the actually make it harder to buy something than other stores. Pathetic product selection.

    I honestly hope the entire thing goes down the tubes and fast. Then maybe some company with a clue will grab up Kmart, craftsman and Lands End. If a decent company was to re-tool Kmart and keep some sort of quality in Craftsman and Lands End the might stand a chance.

  16. Its a shame to see how the mighty have fallen. Sears was regarded my parents as the BEST place to purchased hardware (No, I’m not a Brady), since they had the best customer service and stood behind their products.

    Now they have become Spyware purveyors.

    It’s just Sad.

  17. novelgirl says:

    It sounds like it’d be easy for consumers to not fully realize what they were signing up for.
    See: [www.storefrontbacktalk.com]

  18. starrion says:

    They generate a lot of positive PR by participating in the Extreme Home Makeover, then blow it by installing Spyware. They make a “commercially viable effort to filter out passwords and account numbers”….

    Great job Brownie…

  19. ThinkerTDM says:

    It’s interesting that no one has addressed the “SHC Community” feature, where one could “journal their online shopping experience”. Exactly how would that work?
    “…found a 3/4 inch drill bit, man that would look good in my drill. Add to my shopping cart…done. Hmmm…might as well search the site for something else… ah well, time to check out…done.”
    Journal my online shopping experience. What a concept! Goodbye blogger, c’est la vie myspace! Hit the road, forum!

  20. lostalaska says:

    I live up in Juneau, Alaska. Like a lot of people in Alaska before the internet really took off a lot of our shopping was done through catalog sales like, Sears, Montgomery Wards and JCPenny. I assume these companies are online, but I think the only one I’ve ever checked was JCPenny quite a few years ago and it was so far behind in site design and UI for the user that I went running back to Amazon.

    Creativelinks: My father held Sears in very high regards, mainly due to its Lifetime Warranty on Craftsman tools. So which catalog we got to shop from for clothes, toys and other nick nacks was determined entirely by which company stood by it’s tools the best. Did I mention I was raised in Alaska?

  21. vastrightwing says:

    The new business model:
    1) RIAA and others – Sue your customers.
    2) Force you to opt out of offers rather than opt in.
    3) Self service check-out.
    4) Auto renewing contracts with no way not to renew.
    5) No customer service.
    6) Stuff useless add-ons to your purchase.
    7) High pressure sales of warranties and don’t honor it.
    8) Auto-debit your account and make it difficult to stop.
    9) High penalties to get out of contracts.

  22. RvLeshrac says:

    @vastrightwing:

    I take issue with #7. While some companies *coughBestBuycough* fail to honor service plans, most declined service plan repairs are for items NOT COVERED under the service plans. People just fail to listen when the salesperson attempts to sell them a *higher* plan, and ignore the “this plan does not cover X, Y, and Z” statements.

    “You’re buying our cheapest plan? You should really get Plan Q instead, it covers screen damage and cosmetic damage, which includes damage to the latches on the case and keyboard keys.”
    “No, no, I’m going to stick with the cheaper one.”

    *six months later*

    “WHAT DO YOU MEAN IT WILL BE $600 TO REPLACE THIS SCREEN?! WHAT GOOD IS THIS SERVICE PLAN, THEN?!?!!??!??!??!??!1111ONEONEONE”

  23. RvLeshrac says:

    @vastrightwing:

    Oh, I also take issue with #3. Cashiers will never go away, but self-service check out lanes *speed up the process considerably* for those of us who don’t want to wait in line behind the four people with $800 worth of groceries who are all writing checks but don’thaveapenohwheresmypenImusthaveleftitinthecardoyouhaveapennowellletmejustrunouttothecarandgetit.

  24. bdgbill says:

    This kind of thing is going to happen from time to time until the rest of the old-fogey management that has never touched a computer in their lives die off.

    I can just imagine Mr Jowls, Senior Vice President for Strategic Marketing, summoning some Gen X guy from IT to his office…. “Hey it would be great if we could know every little thing our customers are looking at with their computers. Can you do that?” – Gen X guy says “sure whatever”.

  25. That70sHeidi says:

    @RvLeshrac: Duuude, I was behind someone paying CASH for groceries the other day!!! They were like, 80 years old. Get with the program. Just because it’s plastic doesn’t mean it’s a credit card!

    At KMart the other day two very very old ladies paid for some candy and treats with cash as well. Drives me nuts. SWIPE THE CARD AND MOVE ON.

  26. jamesdenver says:

    @That70sHeidi:

    Duuude: Boo Hoo. I use credit/debit/and cash interchangably and at any time it suits me. I’m certainly not running my debit card for a few dollars when I have cash on hand.

    If you no likey petition your store for a “card only” checkout lane.

    Don’t bitch at people who don’t want to use a credit card, or share their debit card number with every business in town.

  27. almaden says:

    I wonder just how much Sears management understands what is being gathered by the ComScore software. It sure sounds like the “VP of MySHCcommunity” does not fully understand the technical aspects of the program he is managing or the software Sears purchased to do the job. Regardless, you can bet there is a lot of hand-ringing and damage control going on at mySHCcommunity.com (what a terrible name). These bozos are as clueless in dealing with the internet as they are in merchandising. The whole thing wreaks of clunky Sears and Kmart.

  28. HOP says:

    …we don’t enter sears anymore….

  29. Blueoysterjoe says:

    Man, I don’t know why there is so much animosity towards Sears here. Yes, they sometimes have bad service and / or questionable business techniques, but I have yet to shop in any store bigger than the local Bee Honey Hutch that doesn’t have something crooked and wrong with how they do business. It’s the American way of doing business: squeeze out that 5% growth by scamming your customer from entrance to exit. Come on, people! It’s not Sears, it’s our culture. We don’t create value, we create crap and then scam our economy’s growth from it, all funded by the Chinese buying our paper. YEAH!

  30. Lazlo Nibble says:

    @lostalaska: Sears shut down most of their catalog operations in 1993. If they had held out another 18 months and then just moved the whole thing over to the Internet, they might have become the Amazon.com of online general merchandise sales. They had the distribution system in place…

  31. ju_ju_eyeball says:

    The cost of every item accounts for the use of a checkout person. If I use the self checkout lane, I expect a discount…

  32. cableonesucks says:

    I won’t shop there anymore. Actually haven’t in a long time but Now there is just one more reason.

    People will install that software just because it was distributed by Sears. They won’t question the fact that it may be illegal or shady.

    Sears is using it’s reputation to encourage people to trust them and install the stuff. They know the people will and they count on that to get the information they need from your personal computers.

    Personal Computers are no longer personal with Sears.