Okay, folks, we won’t beat around the bush. This is just plain creepy! On Monday, the FTC finalized its order against Aaron’s, one of the country’s largest rent-to-own (RTO) stores, charging that its franchisees were spying on its customers.1 By the way, by spying, we mean to include taking webcam pictures every two minutes that the rented computer was connected to the Internet until directed to stop.
Many of Aaron’s franchisees licensed and installed PC Rental Agent, a privacy-intrusion software, on computers rented to consumers. Unbeknownst to the renters, the software allowed the franchisees to collect private, confidential and personal information about them. Ostensibly, the information was to be used to gather data to assist franchisees in collecting on past-due accounts and recovering computers after default. Nonetheless, the software allowed much more. When in “Detective Mode,” the software logged keystrokes, captured screenshots and activated a computer’s webcam. The program also allowed franchisees to track the physical location of rented computers using WiFi hotspot information.
Quite obviously, the franchisees’ use of this software, without notice to computer users, compromised the renters’ personal, financial and medical information, not to mention the untoward “invasion into the peaceful enjoyment of their homes.” The consumers were also harmed, according to the FTC, by the surreptitious capture of the private details of their lives, including images of visitors, children, family interactions, partially undressed individuals and, as the FTC delicately put it, “people engaged in intimate conduct.” As Walter Dartland, a former deputy attorney general of …