Seven rent-to-own companies and a software design firm have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they spied on consumers using computers that consumers rented from them, capturing screenshots of confidential and personal information, logging their computer keystrokes, and in some cases taking webcam pictures of people in their homes, all without notice to, or consent from, the consumers.
The Federal Trade Commission said the seven companies involved had worked with DesignerWare, a Pennsylvania-based software maker, to create a program that secretly captured “webcam pictures of children, partially undressed individuals, and intimate activities at home.” This included people who while engaging in sexual activities in their homes were being recorded on their rental computers. New York Times
The FTC Tuesday also announced settlements with the seven rent-to-own businesses named in its complaints: Aspen Way Enterprises, B. Stamper Enterprises (a franchisee of Premier Rental Purchase), C.A.L.M. Ventures (a franchisee of Premier Rental Purchase), J.A.G. Rents (a franchisee of ColorTyme), Red Zone (a franchisee of ColorTyme), Showplace (a.k.a. Showplace Rent-to-Own), and Watershed Development (a franchisee of Aaron’s), as well as a settlement with DesignerWare and its principals, Timothy Kelly and Ronald P. Koller.
The related FTC complaint also lists Pennsylvania-based software development company DesignerWare, which sells PC Rental Agent software for recovering rented PCs, which includes a “detective mode” for spying on customers. As of August 2011, the software had been used by about 1,617 rent-to-own stores in the United States, Canada, and Australia, and installed on 420,000 computers
Original article was first posted on 5/24/2011.
Just when you thought things couldn’t get any creepier, a lawsuit brings to light that “rent-to-own” stores are using laptop and desktop webcams to spy on their customers.
The ABA Journal reported that Brian Byrd, 26 and his wife Chrystal, 24, are sueing Aarons, Inc. They are alleging Aaron’s installed software that could monitor key strokes, capture desktop images, and worst of all use the included WebCam to view and snap pictures. The young couple had no idea they were being spied on and probably never would have known, if the store manager hadn’t mistakenly tried to repossess the computer. During a discussion with Brian, the store manager produced a picture of Brian Byrd that was taken by the computers webcam.
Using a software kill switch is pretty much standard practice for stores renting this type of equipment. It gives the store a needed degree of protection. But in this case things seem to have gone to far and entered into the realm of creepy. The software used on this computer was made by the Pennsylvania based, Designerware LLC. It is installed and used on all of the computers rented from their 1,500 stores through out the United States. It’s unsure how things will shake out in court but there is an issue with using the Internet to access an individuals computer without authorization.
Here’s a quote given the Associated Press that sums it up Byrd’s feelings. “It feels like we were pretty much invaded, like somebody else was in our house. It’s a weird feeling, I can’t really describe it. I had to sit down for a minute after he showed me that picture.” Byrd also said, “Crystal gets online before she gets a shower and checks her grades. Who knows? They could print that stuff off there and take it home with them.”
He added: “I’ve got a 5-year-old boy who runs around all day and sometimes he gets out of the tub running around for 20, 30 seconds while we’re on the computer. What if they took a picture of that?”
The thought of grimy store owners or employees sitting in a back room watching and recording customers was until now beyond even my imagination.
Are you kidding me. My daughter and grandchildren can be viewed by who ever walks in off the street looking for a job in a rent to own store.
This is so creepy that it makes me shiver.
I had just adjusted to the fact that I’m being constantly digitized while scratching, picking and doing everything humans do during the course of a day. The thought of getting on an airplane and submitting to the rude probing pat down and the embarrising scans that are now being used has me looking for train schedules.
I’m aware that in todays world once I walk outside my door, I’m on display. I’m being snapped and filmed at every intersection, store, and sidewalk. I might as well be Lady GaGa or Britney Spears exiting a car. This is too much. I should absolutely be able to sit in my own home, secure in the fact that I can’t be invaded. The almighty dollar is not worth this much loss of freedom. If it’s too risky to rent computers without terrorizing the renters then stop renting.
We’ll have to watch this one to see to see the final results. If the Byrds don’t win this, then we’re all in deep dung. If this goes unchallenged I can imagine cameras filming us from within our cars. Appliance manufactures making sure they know our whereabouts until the dishwasher or refrigerator is paid off. It’s not that big a leap, in fact it’s not a leap at all.
Please let me hear your thought on this. I think it’s important to speak out to help preserve our privacy and freedom.