PC rental companies spied on customers in their homes

Posted by Emma Woollacott

Seven rent-to-own companies and a software developer have settled federal charges that they spied on customers, including watching them having sex.

The companies captured screenshots of confidential and personal information, logged keystrokes and took webcam pictures of people in their homes. Their aim was to track the computers belonging to costomers who were behind with their payments.

"An agreement to rent a computer doesn’t give a company license to access consumers’ private emails, bank account information, and medical records, or, even worse, webcam photos of people in the privacy of their own homes," says FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz. "The FTC orders today will put an end to their cyber spying."

Developer DesignerWare produced the software that was used to gather the information, PC Rental Agent. The package included a 'kill switch' designed to disable a computer of it was stolen, or if payments weren't made.

However, an add-on program called Detective Mode could log key strokes, capture screen shots and take photographs using a computer’s webcam, says the FTC in its complaint.

It also presented a fake software program registration screen that tricked consumers into providing their personal contact information.

The snaffled data included user names and passwords for email accounts, social media websites and financial institutions; Social Security numbers; medical records; private emails to doctors; bank and credit card statements; and webcam pictures of children, partially undressed people and sexual activity.

The rent-to-own companies are Aspen Way Enterprises, Watershed Development, Showplace, JAG Rents, Red Zone, B Stamper Enterprises and CALM Ventures. They've got off lightly, agreeing to stop using the data-collection software and to stop deceiving customers.

It's not the first time that a rental company has come under fire for using PC Rental Agent in this way. Last year, a Wyoming couple sued rental company Aaron's after discovering that their PC had been taking webcam pictures of them at home.