Ran into this story on the Truston blog. Tom Fragala, CEO of Truston writes:

The internet retailer you choose just might, without disclosure, install software on your computer to snoop on your web browsing. Brian Krebs at the Security Fix blog has this story. Would you believe it could be one of the country’s oldest retailers though?

Sears is having a bit of a rough day with the privacy community. The company got off to a rocky start with revelations that many customers who gave Sears their personal details after shopping at the company’s Web site also were giving away their online Web browsing habits to marketers, thanks to snooping software silently installed (and ill-documented) by a Sears marketing partner.

Even worse, as revealed in Brian Krebs interesting blog post is that:

The discovery comes from Ben Edelman, an assistant professor at the Harvard Business School and a privacy expert whose research has done much to raise public awareness about the intersection of big business and shady advertising practices.

Sears offers no security whatsoever to prevent any user from retrieving a third party’s purchase history, Edelman said, which violates its own privacy policy with such disclosures, no part of which “grants Sears the right to share users’ purchases with the general public.”

I guess this means that anyone can violate a Sears customer’s privacy by using their website as a tool?

Going back to Professor Edelman raising “public awareness about the intersection of big business and shady advertising practices,” there has always been a very thin line between what is known as spy and adware.

My opinion is that that when information is data mined, there needs to be a transparent way a customer opts-in (authorizes) an entity to use their information.

Current opt-out options are often deceptive and laden with a lot of small print.

So far as Sears, until they disclose what they are doing to fix this (at least answer Mr. Krebs), I’m going to make sure I avoid using their e-commerce facilities!

PS: It’s also a good idea to scan your computer for this kind of “ware” after taking advantage of the ease of Internet shopping.

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