NEWS11 September 2009

Sears to destroy web tracking data

Legal North America

US— The Federal Trade Commission has approved a final consent order that requires Sears Holding Management, the owner of Sears and K-Mart, to disclose the installation of tracking software on consumers’ computers in the future.

The retailer landed itself in hot water with the regulatory body earlier this year when consumers who signed up to take part in a research community had tracking software installed on their computers.

A message explaining that the software had been installed was only mentioned in the 75th line of the terms and conditions, which the FTC said did not sufficiently explain it or give it enough prominence.

It said that the installation violated Section 5 of the Federal Trade Commission Act and described the actions as “unfair or deceptive acts”.

Under the consent order settling the charges, Sears must “clearly and prominently” disclose the type of data that would be tracked by any software it installs in the future and destroy all the information it collected previously.

The software was installed on computers between April 2007 and January 2008. The FTC said Sears was working with a research agency, but did not reveal which one. However, according to Harvard Business School professor Ben Edelman, who investigated the technology, the agency was ComScore.