Sears Holdings Management Corporation – owned by Sears, Roebuck and Company and Kmart Management Corporation – has agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it failed to disclose adequately the scope of consumers’ personal information it collected via a downloadable software application. According to the FTC’s administrative complaint, Sears represented to consumers that the software would track their “online browsing.” The FTC charges that the software would also monitor consumers’ online secure sessions – including sessions on third parties’ Web sites – and collect information transmitted in those sessions, such as the contents of shopping carts, online bank statements, drug prescription records, video rental records, library borrowing histories, and the sender, recipient, subject, and size for web-based e-mails. The software would also track some computer activities that were not related to the Internet. The proposed settlement calls for Sears to stop collecting data from the consumers who downloaded the software and to destroy all data it had previously collected.
According to the FTC’s complaint, Sears invited certain consumers visiting the sears.com and kmart.com Web sites to become members of the “My SHC Community.” Sears solicited these consumers to “participate in exciting, engaging, and on-going interactions – always on your terms and always by your choice.” Sears paid consumers $10 to participate. As part of this process, Sears asked consumers to download “research” software that it said would confidentially track their “online browsing.” Only in a lengthy user license agreement, available to consumers at the end of a multi-step registration process, did Sears disclose the full extent of the information the software tracked, according to the complaint. The complaint charges that Sears’ failure to adequately disclose the scope of the tracking software’s data collection was
deceptive and violates the FTC Act.
Under the proposed settlement, in addition to destroying information previously collected, if Sears advertises or disseminates any tracking software in the future, it must clearly and prominently disclose the types of data the software will monitor, record, or transmit. This disclosure must be made prior to installation and separate from any user license agreement. Sears must also disclose whether any of the data will be used by a third party.
The Commission vote to approve the administrative complaint and proposed settlement agreement was 4-0. The settlement contains standard reporting and record-keeping provisions to allow the agency to monitor compliance. The FTC will publish an announcement regarding the agreement in the Federal Register shortly. The agreement will be subject to public comment for 30 days, beginning today and continuing through July 6, 2009, after which the Commission will decide whether to make it final. To file a public comment, please click on the following hyperlink: http://www.ftc.gov/os/2009/06/0823099publiccomment.pdf and follow the instructions at that site.
NOTE: The Commission issues or files a complaint when it has “reason to believe” that the law has been or is being violated, and it appears to the Commission that a proceeding is in the public interest. The complaint is not a finding or ruling that the named parties have violated the law.
NOTE: A consent agreement is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission of a law violation. When the Commission issues a consent order on a final basis, it carries the force of law with respect to future actions. Each violation of such an order may result in a civil penalty of $16,000.
Copies of the complaint, the proposed settlement agreement, and an analysis of the agreement to aid in public comment are available from both the FTC’s Web site at http://www.ftc.gov, and the FTC’s Consumer Response Center, Room 130, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, N.W., Washington, DC 20580. The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,500 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s Web site provides free information on a variety of consumer topics.