I Can See You In Your Home

May 24, 2011 by in The Pit Blog

UPDATE: 9/25/12

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.


ABA Journal


80 Responses to I Can See You In Your Home

  1. I recently noticed the camera on my laptop (purchased at office depot over a year ago) sounding as if it were taking a picture every now and then. I've been wondering if a spy-like software could get past my security program. Who would want to spy on ME anyway?

  2. Walt Mccall says:

    don't rent a computer..you can buy a good used one for less money some new ones can be bought for around 200 dollars….i will sell you mine for a million dollars if you are dumb enough to buy it for that..it cost 400 new 8 years ago..i took it out of the box…next you will be renting food..i don't own or rent a Mercedes…i cant afford one I only have things I can afford….

  3. Sandy Lambrecht says:

    I just watched ‘Eyeborgs’ – seemed like the not-so-distant future to me !!! Scarey stuff !

  4. nina pollard says:

    clear and simple they should be shut down and go to jail what a bunch of scum bags

  5. Mike Wellman says:

    If you or I did this we would go to jail. why not the people who put this together?

  6. Josie Russell says:

    Okay people this is not funny – next it will be our microwaves and washing machines! Maybe child abuse and any other kind of abuse would be stopped, robbers would be caught quicker! Keep your kitchen and laundry clean the world maybe watching. Wonder what else we don't know about?

  7. Leyer Tamás says:

    Oh, come on… you can't make this stuff up. I can clearly see the judges ruling in favor of the company, somewhere along the lines of "their stuff, their decision about what to do with it".

  8. Geoff says:

    Now these an opening for a new product, a little self adhesive cover that slides over built-in web cams, a webcam blind fold.

    • Turner Bain says:

      A piece of black electrical tape over the camera hold and he mics. I’m not sure how well the sound would be blocked, but it would be badly muffled.

  9. Dawn S says:

    There should be criminal consequences for what each of the perpetrators did (including the S/W company)!

  10. Charles Etheridge says:

    Thsi alll makes me very glad that I not only own my computer but that I assembled it from individual parts as well. It also heaviily discourages the idea of ever activating a web-cam.

  11. Steve Hogan says:

    Not a new phenomenon.

  12. Iman Oldgeek says:

    A remote kill switch in cases of non-payment, I can understand, and that is justified. If customers don't pay, they don't play. However, logging keystrokes, grabbing screen caps, and worst of all, using the webcam to capture who knows what images…I hope Aarons and all other companies who have done this are fined so heavily they never even consider doing it again. Designware LLC, in addition, should be prosecuted being a party to all of this.

    • PaulnDawn Pomerville says:

      That's f'd up!

    • Jeff J Wilson says:

      I don't think Designware LLC should have to answer for this as this software was probable that it was made for company use where employees know of the software and it is used for remote monitoring for legitimate reasons. The Designware LLC was prob unaware it was been used for this purpose.

  13. Chloe Primmer says:

    its all apart of the new world order. governments are controlling us in every way possible. they watch us. they control us through subliminal advertising, music, movies. everything. there's nothing about our countries that are 'free'. Just you wait.

    • DaveC. says:

      @Chloe Primmer: WTF does the “Government” have to do with a private software company developing this software, and rental companies installing it on their rental machines? Seriously, the Governments have nothing to do with 1/10th of the shit you folks try to pin on them. They’re NOT in cahoots with everyone to spy on everyone…really.

  14. Smiling Carcass says:

    Could a micro camera be put into an LCD or LED screen? Would a TV enginneer spot it? HMMM. I don’t necessarily believe it is happening, but could it?

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