By  on June 5, 2009

WASHINGTON — Sears Holdings Management Corp. reached a preliminary settlement Thursday with the Federal Trade Commission over charges the retail company collected sensitive consumer information through tracking software without adequately informing users of the scope of data obtained.

According to the FTC, Sears asked some consumers who visited the and Web sites to download “research” software that would track their online browsing history in exchange for $10.

Despite the inclusion of a user agreement in the software, the FTC charged that Sears did not make it clear enough to users that in addition to browsing history, the software collected any information transmitted during online sessions. Personal information including shopping-cart contents, online bank statements, drug-prescription records and information about Web-based e-mails was also collected.

“Sears Holdings takes the safety and security of our customers’ private information very seriously,” said a spokeswoman for the company. “The research project was completed over a year ago and no further similar studies have been conducted since, nor are planned going forward. No customer data was ever compromised or disclosed, and all personal information was destroyed at the end of the project. Any software that was downloaded by panelists was also removed at the conclusion of the research period with each participant. No tracking software is being deployed on any of Sears Holdings’ sites or communities.”

As part of the settlement, Sears agreed to destroy all collected information and stop collecting data from consumers who already downloaded the software. Sears also agreed to adequately disclose the scope of any future tracking software it deploys prior to installation and separately from the user agreement.

The settlement is subject to a 30-day, open-comment period, after which the FTC will decide whether to make the agreement final. Sears did not respond to requests for comment.

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