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Sears Installs Spyware 201

Gandalf_the_Beardy writes in with news that's been around a while but is getting more attention lately. Last month Benjamin Googins, a security researcher at CA, determined that Sears Holding Corp. installed ComScore spyware without adequate disclosure. Sears said, yes we tell people about tracking their browsing. On Jan. 1 spyware researcher Ben Edelman weighed in, noting that Sears' notice occurs on page 10 of a 54-page privacy statement, and twits Sears because its installation 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, adding "These confusing name-changes fit the trend among spyware vendors."
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Sears Installs Spyware

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  • Screwed Up (Score:2, Insightful)

    by coop247 ( 974899 ) on Thursday January 03, 2008 @12:43PM (#21896030)
    In my opinion this is worse than the "communities" some e-com sites have you join that secretly charge your card $2 a month, at least that you see on your CC statement. Also, does it put anything visible in your Programs folder or does this program show up in Add/Remove Programs?
  • Cue Sony Parallels (Score:2, Insightful)

    by WizMaster ( 974384 ) on Thursday January 03, 2008 @12:50PM (#21896124)

    What does SEARS need with this info? Honestly, this just smells bad. I won't call them evil just yet but this is pretty serious from a privacy POV.

    Also, isn't it about time we push for a law that makes these privacy agreements shorter and in english (not legalese). One thing I like about CC is that they have a layman's terms version of all their licenses as well as the legalese ones. Not only would people be more likely to read them but it makes it hard for companies to bury important info several pages deep.

    I realize that the layman's version would be long as heck but it's better then nothing (and people would STILL be more likely to read it since they can understand it without thinking to hard).

  • by i.r.id10t ( 595143 ) on Thursday January 03, 2008 @12:55PM (#21896240)
    The customers of K-Mart Sears are no longer the people buying products in stores and use the Sears website; the new customer is the stockholder.

    This is true of any publicly traded company. How or what that company does to produce max profits for its shareholders is a different matter...
  • by gstoddart ( 321705 ) on Thursday January 03, 2008 @12:59PM (#21896304) Homepage

    I would love to meet the decision maker that believes this is morally permissive act that can be "contracted" through an EULA.

    Surely, you're kidding right?

    Large companies operate on what is legally permissible. If current case law says you can legally put any bullshit into an EULA and have it be valid, that's the bar.

    They don't give a flying crap about morally OK -- it's irrelevant.

    Companies are impersonal entities, managed by people with a profit motive to maximize their bonuses by doing what they can do to maximize shareholder value in the short term. Morality doesn't apply if the lawyers tell them it was legal.

  • Re:Plain English (Score:4, Insightful)

    by LordKazan ( 558383 ) on Thursday January 03, 2008 @01:06PM (#21896426) Homepage Journal
    the problem with that is that plain simple language is also immensely inprecise.
  • Re:Sears is evil. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by himurabattousai ( 985656 ) <> on Thursday January 03, 2008 @01:26PM (#21896784)
    GP is not off-topic. The treatment a company gives its employees and the treatment a company gives its customers are often one and the same. After all, the employees are just an indirect revenue stream (by helping to separate the customer from his money). As far as the big mega-corp is concerned, money is king, and it will do whatever is necessary to milk their customers (and employees) for every cent of profit it can get. Things like good customer service only cut into that profit (in the mega-corp's mind), and the mega-corp would rather take the small chance that spyware would bring them more money than to have good customer service because the spyware costs less.

    Of course, the obvious way to avoid problems like these is to not sign up for such things in the first place. How many people receive an actual benefit by signing up for this kind of service?? I'd bet the number is somewhere between zero and two.

  • by GreyWolf3000 ( 468618 ) on Thursday January 03, 2008 @02:01PM (#21897494) Journal

    You're like...completely right (in my opinion).

    To expand on the economic side a bit, the stock holders own shares of publicly traded companies because they believe those companies will earn profit and grow in the future. Investment is a beautiful but risky thing. A company that no longer maintains the ability to expand and sell more widgets/services will not realize the growth needed to bring a return on the investments. That means a company like Sears always needs to expand and sell more and more stuff in order to compensate for the "interest" that must be paid out to the investors. Basically, investors will pull out if a company can't realize a certain growth in share value, so the company must grow. Hence, it is reasonable for the company to try and push spyware on to products they sell, because it opens them up to a new customer base--advertising companies willing to pay to gain access to marketing information people's computers. Companies who's cash is 'borrowed' from investors will always face this problem. They can't afford not to grow.

    Do I lay blame to these "evil" companies for trying to screw over the consumer? Some of it is their fault, but I tend to also (read: not entirely) lay blame the consumer for making spam, spyware, rootkits, etc. profitable. Just as companies have an ethical code we more or less hold them to, consumers also must take responsibility and understand that their choices also effect change in the marketplace.

    I really like supporting companies like Google and Whole Foods whose management teams profess to see value in giving back to the community. I also respect individuals who understand that the only way large, evil companies can seem to rule the world is if the majority of a society tolerate them. And if the majority of the society is not willing to tolerate these companies, then they won't buy the crapware filled computers, and no laws are needed. If the majority of the society is willing to tolerate these companies, than "Democracy" has failed.

    Basically, I find that a society that needs huge amounts of laws above and beyond basic things like anti-trust in order to keep corporations in check will end up having a bunch of citizens who can't make responsible decisions for themselves. That means that such a society cannot support a democracy. Scary thought to me.

  • Re:Sears is evil. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by pongo000 ( 97357 ) on Thursday January 03, 2008 @02:09PM (#21897616)
    I worked for Sears (retail) for about 4 years. I never experienced any of the issues related here, which just goes to show you that there are always both sides of the story.

    In fact, the Sears I worked at (in Houston) went out of their way to accommodate us (most of us high school or college students at the time). The supervisors were, for the most part, reasonable to work with, and nobody put undue demands on us to perform. I wasn't commissioned sales, but I probably knew everybody in the store, and I don't recall anybody relating horror stories like those mentioned already.

    I'm not saying the stories related here didn't happen...but let's be fair: Mod up four or five "negative" stories without counterbalance?

    Oh, wait, this is /. What am I thinking...
  • Re:Sears is evil. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by TheDarkener ( 198348 ) on Thursday January 03, 2008 @02:16PM (#21897770) Homepage
    Glad to see your response. You're right, there are always two sides to a story, and your post proves it.

    Just so happens that you're the only one who's counter-balanced so far. That would lead me to believe that there are many more negative stories about Sears than not...until other people decide to speak up, of course.
  • by geekoid ( 135745 ) <`dadinportland' `at' `'> on Thursday January 03, 2008 @02:19PM (#21897836) Homepage Journal
    a 54-page privacy document is unreasonable. To say 'don't install the software' isn't practical.

    Sears is a trusted brand. They are using the trust to abuse consumers.

  • Re:Sears is evil. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by phantomlord ( 38815 ) <slashdot AT krwtech DOT com> on Thursday January 03, 2008 @02:49PM (#21898360) Journal
    Back when I was a teenager, I went through management training for a chain restaurant with an Irish name.

    One of the first things we learned is (a series of studies they did said) people are 10x more likely to be vocal about a negative experience than a positive one. I would imagine that's just as true on the employee perspective as it is the customer's side. People usually don't talk about how their boss pretty much met their expectations, just like they don't go around bragging that the toaster they got from Target seems ok. Once in a while, you'll hear about some great manager somewhere, but it's almost always in response to someone (or a bunch of people) talking about how much their management sucks

    So, just because he's the only one with a positive story about working there doesn't mean that there aren't plenty of other people who had good experiences. It just means that people who had bad experiences are more likely to vocalize them.
  • by Joe Jay Bee ( 1151309 ) * <jbsouthsea@ g m a> on Thursday January 03, 2008 @03:15PM (#21898880)
    Or, to quote Dilbert, "Why trade perfectly good money for something that does the same thing only less well?"

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