The FTC partnered with the Illinois Attorney General to investigate seven rent-to-own companies and a software design firm. The investigation resulted in charges being filed against the companies. Yesterday, the FTC announced that the companies signed a consent agreement to settle charges that they spied on consumers who rented computers from them. The spying included capturing screenshots of confidential and personal information, logging keystrokes, and in some cases taking webcam pictures of people in their homes, without notifying consumers or getting their consent.
DesignerWare, LLC, the software design company named in the suit, licensed software to rent-to-own stores that helped them track and recover rented computers. The software also contained a kill switch allowing the stores to disable a computer if it was stolen or if the renter missed payments. An add-on program called Detective Mode allegedly allowed the different forms of spying and also presented a fake software registration screen that tricked consumers into providing personal contact information.
According to the FTC, information collected by DesignerWare included:
user names and passwords for email accounts, social media sites, and financial institutions
Social Security numbers
private emails to doctors
bank and credit card statements
webcam pictures of children
partially undressed individuals
intimate activities at home
At its highest setting, Detective Mode took webcam pictures and screen shots every two minutes while the computer was on. The collected information was sent to an email account designated by each store.
The rent-to-own companies named in the action included franchisees of Aaron’s, ColorTyme, Premier Rental Purchase, Watershed Development Corp., and Showplace Rent-to-Own. They were charged with “breaking the law by secretly collecting consumers’ confidential and personal information and using it to try to collect money from them.” The FTC also alleged that the use of the bogus registration was deceptive.
Under the terms of the settlement, the companies are banned from using monitoring software like Detective Mode, from using fake software registration screens, and from using geolocation tracking without consumer consent. The consent agreement is for settlement purposes only and does not constitute an admission of guilt.
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