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Sears Spies On Customers, Receives Light Punishment for Bad Behavior

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Be careful of where you shop—online, that is. Back in June, the Sears Roebuck Company settled with the Federal Trade Commission, after it was revealed that Sears used a spying program to monitor the web use and online shopping habits of their customers. However, it seems that the actual punishment that Sears will face is a mere slap on the wrist for a major invasion of consumers’ privacy.

The penalty for Sears’ bad behavior is meager: if Sears does decide to use such software again, it has to directly inform consumers. Furthermore, Sears had to destroy all of its previous data—which it had already done anyway. Finally, Sears agreed to help anyone who doesn’t want the program on their computer to uninstall the software.

Apparently, between April 2007 and January 2008, Sears duped customers into believing they were joining a “marketing research group” called “My SHC Community”, with a $10 reward if they signed up. Customers were told that their input would help Sears learn more about their customers. However, they were not informed that the program could retrieve information on SHC members’ prescription information, emails, bank account data, and online purchases on other websites. Nevertheless, Sears claimed that the SHC Community was “small” and that the data that was retrieved was always secure and was eventually destroyed.

The FTC filed the complaint against Sears, accusing the company of deceiving consumers who signed up for and downloaded the software. However, it seems that Sears’ punishment is not enough to deter other retailers from repeating the same bad behavior.