Couple claims rental firm spied on them with webcam

Posted by Emma Woollacott

They say the walls have ears - but what if your hire-purchase PC has eyes, and reports what it's seen back to the rental company?

That's what Wyoming couple Brian and Crystal Byrd say happened to them when they rented a laptop from major furniture rental chain Aaron's.

The Byrds say that a manager visited them last December, claiming erroneously that they hadn't finished paying for the machine - and showed them a picture of the machine being used, taken by its webcam.

"It feels like we were pretty much invaded, like somebody else was in our house," Brian Byrd told the Associated Press.

"I've got a five-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? I wouldn't want that kind of garbage floating around out there."

The Byrds are suing Aaron's in a Pennsylvania court for unspecified damages and legal fees, and are hoping to get it declared as a class action suit.

The case has strong echoes of last year's scandal over a school alleged to have spied on its pupils using a similar set-up - a high-profile case that you'd have thought would have rung warning bells for anyone tempted to emulate it.

The Lower Merion School District ended up paying out over $600,000 to settle claims that it had spied on students using school-issued laptops at home.

The Byrds say the spying software used was PCRental Agent, made by Designerware. The package allows rental companies to monitor PC use and lock down a machine if the terms of the agreement are violated. Crucially, though, customers are supposed to be informed if the software is being used.