What would be your reaction if you find out that your laptop is secretly capturing your private life, even of your sexual encounters, and sending those to some remote servers? That would be the worse nightmare ever. But, that might have already occurred in your life. On September 25, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) announced it had reached to a settlement with seven rent-to-own PC companies that spied on their customers including secretly capturing “pictures of children, individuals not fully clothed, and couples engaged in sexual activities” through the rented computers.
The allegation came upon on seven rent-to-own computer companies – Aspen Way Enterprises Inc., Watershed Development Corp., Showplace Inc., J.A.G. Rents LLC, Red Zone Inc., B. Stamper Enterprises Inc. and C.A.L.M. Ventures Inc. According to FTC, each of these seven companies installed a software called PC Rental Agent, designed by now-bankrupt software firm DesignerWare. The PC Rental Agent software enabled the rent-to-own companies to see keystroke logs, take screen shots, and even take pictures using the computer’s webcam, all without their customers’ acknowledgement.
After creating PC Rental Agent, DesignerWare promoted this software to rent-to-own companies mentioning the software can keep track of a rented computer’s physical location and has the ability to disable it remotely if the users don’t pay in due time or skip payments.
The FTC didn’t raise any issue with the software; rather it raised the issue of rent-to-own companies’ mentality. FTC deemed the rent-to-own companies used an unlawful add-on program called Detective Mode. Through this add-on program, the rental companies were able to gather data from a renter’s computer and later it transmitted the information to DesignerWare’s servers every two minutes. That’s not all. Detective Mode also enabled the rent-to-own stores to make a fake software registration window to a renter’s computer display that asked the user to enter a name, address and phone number. The window could not be closed until the information had been entered.
Tracy Thorleifson, an FTC attorney at its office in Seattle, said “while the rent-to-own stores are entitled to be paid for their property….they are not entitled to spy on people.”
Apparently, DesignerWare and the seven rent-to-own companies should be punished or fined. But Thorleifson mentioned that no money would be collected as part of the settlement with the FTC. But the the software maker firm agreed to deactivate Detective Mode and stop spying on its renters.