(Mis)Uses of Technology

by Mike Masnick

Filed Under:
community, spyware

k-mart, sears

Sears Online 'Community' Still Looks More Like Spyware Than A Community

from the let's-try-that-again dept

Last month we wrote about how Sears and K-mart's websites both were urging people to join a "community," but that community didn't seem like much of a community at all. Instead, it involved quietly installing Comscore's tracking software without telling the user, and then tracking all of their web usage. Following all of this, a VP from Sears responded to CA's original post on the subject trying to refute the claims. However, well-known spyware researcher Ben Edelman has now weighed in on the subject, checking out this "community" and finding plenty to dislike. As the initial report noted, it's not clear at all to users that they're installing Comscore's tracking app, and even the few notifications that mention it are somewhat unclear. Given that both Edelman and CA have pretty clearly documented what's happening, it's hard to see how Sears can claim that the company "goes to great lengths to describe the tracking aspect."

Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1. identicon
    Mickey, Jan 2nd, 2008 @ 12:23pm

    SHC Community - redundant much?

    SHC stands for Sears Holdings Community, so why do they refer to it as "SHC Community". Isn't that like calling something a "NES system" or an "ATM Machine"? Are we using the "WWW web", on sites built with "HTML Language"?

    It just looks dumb, though that seems to be the least of their problems with it...

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  2. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, Jan 2nd, 2008 @ 12:41pm


    If it wasn't for craftsman Sears would have died a slow and painful death about 10 years ago. And if it wasn't for craftsman I'd have been happy about it.

    At this point who even cares about craftsman? This dinosaur needs to fall into a tar-pit for this crap!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  3. identicon
    Tom, Jan 2nd, 2008 @ 1:03pm

    SHC stand for Sears Holding Corporation, not Sears Holding Community.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  4. identicon
    Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased), Jan 2nd, 2008 @ 1:31pm

    They deserve it!

    It states that their online browsing will be tracked. Idiots who continue with the install deserve to be tracked. You actually have to go through an installation window for the software install. How is this a quiet install?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  5. identicon
    Mark, Jan 2nd, 2008 @ 1:32pm

    Sears Credit not Craftsman

    I would think sears credit practices were a larger influence on keeping them in shape. The craftsman brand was probably lower on the list.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  6. identicon
    Dave Barnes, Jan 2nd, 2008 @ 2:09pm

    No spyware for me

    And the Apple fanboy slinks away because the "Community" won't let him become a member.
    Oh well, I will just take my money to Ace Hardware.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  7. identicon
    Ben Edelman, Jan 2nd, 2008 @ 2:19pm

    The disclosure is not as Chuck Norris' Enemy Descr

    In reply to Chuck Norris' Enemy:

    The relevant disclosures appear at page 10 of a lengthy license agreement squeezed into a small scroll box -- with no section headings to help users find the disclosures, and with a heading and caption that nowhere suggest that any such disclosures lie within.

    You're right that users are presented with an ActiveX prompt ("installation window") indicating that something is going to be installed. But nowhere are users properly told what the software is or what it will do. That's a rotten deal, and it's contrary to recent FTC cases that call for much better disclosure than is provided here.

    If you're so inclined, you can look at the screenshots on my site.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  8. identicon
    Thrawn, Jan 2nd, 2008 @ 2:47pm

    Re: SHC Community - redundant much?

    No, SHC is Sears Holdings Corporation.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  9. identicon
    Chuck Norris' Enemy's Fan, Jan 2nd, 2008 @ 3:42pm

    Re: They deserve it!

    I agree that they deserve it! The naive should deserve to be taken by the con men and the fools should all be separated from their money! It's the law of nature, like how the wolves cull the weak and the sick from the herd and make the herd stronger! All weaklings should be removed from society! Forget the sentimental rot and tell your grandmother that her time is up! She deserves it for being old and weak!

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  10. identicon
    Tim Perry, Jan 2nd, 2008 @ 3:58pm

    Red Flag

    If any community says that you need to install software to use it, it should raise a red flag on anyone's radar. I'm wondering how many people actually joined.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  11. identicon
    Paul`, Jan 2nd, 2008 @ 5:11pm

    Re: The disclosure is not as Chuck Norris' Enemy D

    Correct me if I'm wrong but in the 3rd paragraph of the first screen shot, the one of the email, it very clearly states that to join you must install 3rd party software thats is intended to "...track your online browsing." That is hardly hidden in the 10th page of a license agreement.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  12. identicon
    Ben Edelman, Jan 2nd, 2008 @ 5:25pm

    How and where the disclosure is hidden


    You're right that the disclosure appears in the fourth paragraph of the email. To those who take the time to read that paragraph, it's apparent that software will "track ... online browsing." Nonetheless, this disclosure falls short. Why?

    1) The disclosure appears midway through a paragraph. Would a reasonable user read this entire 582-word email? Every single sentence? Reasonable users rely on headings and topic sentences to help them find what's important. Here, the topic sentence affirmatively hinders comprehension: The topic sentence is about something else (not installing software). A user might reasonably glance at the top of the email and perhaps a few topic sentences, then press Join and continue onwards. Such a user would miss the only on-screen program description Sears shows during the insatllation sequence.

    2) The disclosure is vague. The disclosure never quite says what the software does. "Track your online browsing" -- but where (at what sites), and when? That's important information users need to know in order to make an informed decision.

    3) The decision is far removed from the actual installation executable. Quite a few more clicks are required between the disclosure and the installation. With multiple steps between the disclosure and the installation, it's hard for reasonable users to see the connection. Conversely, when the user is sitting at the ActiveX install screen, there's no information available (nor recently presented) about what is to be installed.

    4) FTC rules require a better disclosure. FTC precedent requires "prominent" and "unavoidable" notice. Is a disclosure midway through a paragraph "prominent"? "Unavoidable"? No.

    5) Sears itself promised better. Sears' email promises that "during the registration process, you'll learn more about this application software" -- but in fact no more on-screen information ever appears. In its subsequent public statements, Sears claims disclosure occurs "on the first signup page." It does not. Sears also claims that the installer provides "a progress bar that they [users] can abort." But the screenshots and video show that there is no abort or cancel button.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  13. identicon
    Alfred E. Neuman, Jan 2nd, 2008 @ 5:54pm

    Re: The disclosure is not as Chuck Norris' Enemy D

    "users are presented with an ActiveX prompt "

    Here is the problem ...
    Do not ever allow ActiveX to be "active", or you will pay the price. Yeah, I know - M$ requires it for their auto update. You can do that manually.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  14. identicon
    Rose M. Welch, Jan 2nd, 2008 @ 8:11pm

    Sears sucks.

    Yes, I realize that it's a childish way to put it, but boy is it ever true. I work next door to a mall-enclosed Sears, and they have a contract with our company for thier watch battery replacements, ring sizings, and stone tightenings from thier jewelry dept. They keep a house account at our store that's supposed to be paid monthly.

    I used to waltz over my lunch break and buy my kids shoes and clothes there, because they offer a 'Kidvantage program' where they will replace the shoes and clothes if they wear out before the child outgrows them. And they rarely did.

    Now, Sears still offers the Kidvantage program for thier kids shoes and clothing (which are NOT the quality that they used to be, although the price has stayed the same), but they will not honor it. Their prices have gone up, and I know two mechanics that used to exclusively use the tools from there because of thier replacement garuantee, which they also no longer honor. And it's not like they stopped these programs. They still advertise these programs... They just don't honor them. And the worst part...? They no longer even pay thier bills with us.

    Sears has gone way down hill and I no longer shop there. When my children receive clothes (as gifts) from there, they are promptly returned. My two mechanic friends now both shop with Snap-On and I'm a Penney's fan.

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

  15. identicon
    Chuck Norris' Enemy (deceased), Jan 3rd, 2008 @ 12:21pm

    Re: The disclosure is not as Chuck Norris' Enemy D

    I think the screenshots make my point. Of course I already looked at your site. Where do you think I got the information from...my personal invite and acceptance into the SHC Community?

    reply to this | link to this | view in thread ]

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