Rented PCs secretly spy on customers; perps get no punishment

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Rented PCs secretly spy on customers; perps get no punishment ?

Seven computer rental stores who spied on customers having sex, smoking
dope, and worse via webcams have settled with the FTC and agreed to put
their spy toys away. No harm, no foul?

Interested in a fabulous career as an Internet exhibitionist? It's easy.
Just rent a computer from a sleazy company and let nature take its

Yesterday the FTC announced a settlement with a half dozen computer
rent-to-own companies that have been using spyware and webcams to
literally watch their customers doing the nasty. Using software built by
DesignerWare LLC called PC Rental Agent, employees at rental stores
across the nation were able to spy on as many as 420,000 rented machines
-- turning on their webcams, capturing their screens, and logging their
keystrokes -- all without telling customers.

PC Rental Agent has a feature called "Detective Mode," which can capture
all of this data from a rented PC every two minutes, if desired. Per the
original FTC complaint (PDF):

When activated, Detective Mode can also cause a computer's webcam to
surreptitiously photograph not only the computer user, but also anyone
else within view of the camera. In numerous instances, Detective Mode
webcam activations have taken pictures of children, individuals not
fully clothed, and couples engaged in sexual activities.

It actually gets worse. Aside from the prurient videos, the rental
companies also snagged private emails, Social Security numbers, bank and
credit card statements, photos, and medical records. If that's not
sleazy enough for you, the software served up fake registration forms,
pretending to be from legitimate software programs, in order to capture
more info about each customer.

The stores didn't just activate the software if a laptop went missing.
They apparently did it for entertainment as well. Or so says this report

A former sales manager at an Aaron's store owned by a franchisee in the
state of Washington told the judge that in her experience, the detective
mode of the software, PC Rental Agent, was used not only in cases of
"stolen" merchandise.

Some managers stored data that was collected secretly from customers'
computers, said Chastity Hittinger.

She said she had seen screen shots of customer's bank accounts and
Macy's bills and a photo that captured a woman sitting at her computer
smoking a marijuana water pipe.

When asked what the managers did with the data, she said, "They would
just sit around and joke about it."

The rental franchisees named in the suit operated stores under the
following brands: Aaron's Inc., Aspen Way Enterprises, Watershed
Development Corp., Showplace Rent-to-Own, ColorTyme, and Premier Rental
Purchase. Make a note of that, next time you're thinking about renting

Also named was DesignerWare LLC, which is based in North East, Pa., on
the shores of Lake Erie. That's about a seven-hour drive from Lower
Merion, which had its own webcam spying scandal a few years back
involving high school student laptops.

If this keeps up, Pennsylvania will have to change its state motto from
the Keystone State to the Peephole State.

This spying scandal only became public thanks to Brian and Crystal Byrd
of Casper, Wyo. They had rented a Dell Inspiron from Aarons and had just
made the final payment in October 2010 when a store manager showed up on
their doorstep holding a photo of them captured via the Inspiron's
webcam. The store had failed to record their final payment and
mistakenly assumed the Byrds were welching on their bill. The store
manager was there to collect. You can imagine how that went.

The FTC can't issue criminal charges, only civil ones, and its attorneys
decided the agency couldn't sue these companies under its charter,
either. So the settlement consists of these companies agreeing to take
their spy toys and put them away in the closet. No harm, no foul, no

On the other hand, the angry Byrds have filed a class action lawsuit. I
hope they sue the pants off all of these companies. Lord knows they've
seen enough of their customers without pants.

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