Protect Your Privacy In a Predatory World

One of the many signs that we have lost control of our destiny is that Big Brother is watching everywhere we go. After all, the CIA was allowed to listen in on our telephone conversations without authority or penalty because of the alleged weapons of destruction they were monitoring. While there are situations such as this that we have no control over, we need to be aware of monitoring we may be subjecting ourselves to voluntarily.

The latest invasion of personal privacy is being done by Sears. If you decided to sign up for this retailer’s emails and you joined the “My SHC Community” you are probably sharing a lot more information about yourself with others than you thought. Apparently, you are not just sharing your details with Sears but with comScore, a company that tracks and aggregates browsing habits on the Internet.

When you install the Sears software, you also install VoiceFive software that provides data directly to comScore about your Internet browsing habits, basically making it spyware. Clearly this program is working for comScore because they have been able to effectively monitor people’s browsing habits – most likely, unknown to most of the folks being watched. In fact, comScore is the company that provided the stats showing that GodTube was the quickly growing website last year and that more people stole Radiohead’s most recent album than those who legally downloaded it. Would you reveal this type of stuff knowingly to a spyware company? I sincerely doubt it but obviously comScore has been able to quietly monitor and compile browsing habits for millions of people to come up with these kind of statistics.

However, Sears is legally correct in their actions because they did make mention of the software deep within the privacy statement users need to agree to prior to signing up for the SHC Community. The privacy statement, in part, reads:

Once you install our application, it monitors all of the Internet behavior that occurs on the computer on which you install the application, including both your normal web browsing and the activity that you undertake during secure sessions, such as filling a shopping basket, completing an application form or checking your online accounts, which may include personal financial or health information.

Once again, if this was more clearly stated in the forefront of Sears’ website, I doubt that many people would sign up for this “community”. Would you knowingly allow unknown parties to check out everyone you go online, including you personal bank accounts, credit accounts and health information? However, it is scary to think that you’ve already allowed someone this access if you joined Sears SHC Community.

Certain experts feel that this disclosure was too hidden to meet the intentions of the FTC regulations requiring companies to make it clearly apparent when spyware was going to be used. Somehow I don’t believe that sticking the statement above in a multiple page privacy statement documents is clarity, but it won’t be Sears that ultimately pays for this invasion of privacy – it will be the individuals who unwittingly supplied their personal details and continued to surf the Internet while they were being watching by spyware.

Sears is just a small example of what is going on internationally with regard to invasion of privacy and misrepresentation. Big business and government continues to get away with exploiting our basic rights so we need to become knowledgeable on our own and read all the fine print to protect ourselves in this predatory world. Mamasaid there’d be days like this…

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