Wednesday, September 26, 2012

US Rental Retailers Halted from Spying on Computers

With the price of certain household and personal goods beyond the affordability of many people in a tough economy, rent-to-own stores have provided a savior to individuals as well as families. In many cases requiring just basic information, rent-to-own locations offer customers an item or items under a rental agreement that after a predetermined term payments allow the consumer to claim ownership of the property. While that part of the rent-to-own process has been mostly transparent to customers, many of those in possession of a computer were reportedly the recipients of products that granted secret and invasive access to private, personal information according to the United States Federal Trade Commission (FTC). On Tuesday, September 25th, a settlement brokered between a software firm and several rent-to-own clients has put to rest a story of corporate cyber spying.

Acting on complaints, FTC investigated that the rental companies would give tabs on rented computers in the hands of consumers by using a multitude of secretive and deceptive manners. Capturing screenshots of personal information, keylogging (process of recording keyboard strokes) and even turning on the webcam on some devices remotely unannounced to the user were some of the complaints levied as part of a software array called "Detective Mode". The DesignerWare sourced software also included tracking that allowed a device's location to be pinpointed. A final charge also alleged users were lured to register software through bogus registration screens meant to collect personal information.

The secretly embedded software distributed by DesignerWare to several major rent-to-own chains such as ColorTyme, Aspen Way Enterprises, J.A.G. Rents and Showplace Rent-to-Own as well as computers sold through Aaron's locations. The DesignerWare software program installed on rent-to-own computers were also equipped with a so-called "kill switch" that would render the device disabled if found to be stolen or even if a renter failed to make payments. All together, the bundle of secretive DesignerWare software amounted to data collection and tracking. Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan stated, "There is no justification for spying on customers. These tactics are offensive invasions of personal privacy."

Through a proposed settlement, DesignerWare and seven rent-to-own franchises will be prohibited from using tracking software without the consent from the customer. The rent-to-own established will also be barred from using the already gathered for the proposes of debt collection. Chairman of the FTC Jon Leibowitz said, "An agreement to rent a computer doesn't give a company license to access consumer's private emails, bank account information, and medical records, or, even worse, webcam photos of people in the privacy of their own home. Leibowitz declared that with the settlement, "The FTC orders today will put an end to their cyber spying."

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