reached a settlement with DesignerWare Corporation and numerous computer rental companies for installing software on rented computers which secretly snapped explicit webcam pictures, captured emails and a variety of other personal information, including Social Security Numbers, medical and bank account information from thousands of users.
The companies installed a surveillance program called 'PC Rental
Agent' which according to the FTC, "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, ... webcam
activations have taken pictures of children, individuals not fully
clothed, and couples engaged in sexual activities."
The software, which is undetectable and uninstallable by the user,
has been installed on nearly half a million computers and has been
distributed by 1,617 computer rental companies in the US, Canada and
According to the complaint,
"PC Rental Agent, when installed on a rented computer, offers
rent-to-own store licensees the ability to direct DesignerWare’s servers
to disable a computer remotely when a consumer is late making payments,
has stopped communicating with the rent-to-own store, or has otherwise
violated the rental contract."
The software also contains an option for the rental company to turn
on "Detective Mode" which, again quoting from the complaint, "Once
installed and activated, Detective Mode can log the keystrokes of the
computer user, take screen shots of the computer user’s activities on
the computer, and photograph anyone within view of the computer’s
webcam." DesignerWare collects this information and transmits it,
unencrypted, to the computer rental company.
PC Rental Agent also secretly tracked users by logging public wifi
networks the computer used to access the internet, which "employees of
the rent-to-own stores ...can monitor their physical locations and the
patterns of their movements."
The FTC settlement requires rent-to-own companies to stop using
monitoring software or tracking users' locations without knowledge or
consent. The companies cannot used illicitly gained information to
collect customer debts and the FTC will monitor them for 20 years.
The following companies are named in the complaint:
DesignerWare, LLC; its principals, Timothy Kelly and Ronald P. Koller,
individually and as officers of DesignerWare, LLC.; Aspen Way
Enterprises, Inc.; Watershed Development Corp.; Showplace, Inc., d/b/a
Showplace Rent-to-Own; J.A.G. Rents, LLC, d/b/a ColorTyme; Red Zone,
Inc., d/b/a ColorTyme; B. Stamper Enterprises, Inc., d/b/a Premier
Rental Purchase; and C.A.L.M. Ventures, Inc., d/b/a Premier Rental
First published on Technorati as "Rented Computers Caught Spying on Customers"