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Sears, the department-store operator, is inviting visitors to its website to join an online "community." In the process, visitors may be unwittingly installing spyware from ComScore which monitors all of their online behavior "including ... filling a shopping basket, completing an application form, or checking your ... personal financial or health information." Sears defends this installation process as clearly and appropriately disclosed. Computer Associates, a Harvard Business School professor, and possibly the government disagree.

The researchers argue that Sears fails to disclose its relationship with ComScore. Mentioning the tracking application and its purposes pages into a dense privacy statement and end-user l icense does not count, they say. Sears disagrees, but the Federal Trade Commission may well think otherwise. The FTC has recently set standards for disclosure and consent related to third parties installing tracking software on users' computers. The required disclosure should be clear, prominent, unavoidable, and separate from any other licensing agreements.

While Sears is taking all the flak for the tracking software, it's really the problem of its business partner, ComScore, and the entire Internet-tracking industry. Why the deception? Because the benefits from the software flow to ComScore and other usage trackers, not the users being tracked. If Sears flashed even a token $5 discount at these people, you can bet they'd gladly hand over their privacy rights.