FTC Halts Companies’ Computer Spying
The charges outlined in the FTC’s recent lawsuits against one software business and seven rent-to-own companies are surprising — some might even say creepy. These companies installed software on rented computers that gave them the ability to hit the “kill switch” if people were behind on their payments. But according to the FTC, it also let them collect sensitive personal information, grab screen shots, and take webcam photos of people in their homes.
The FTC reached settlements with Designer Ware, LLC, the software company, and seven rent-to-own businesses, including franchisees of Aaron’s, ColorTyme, and Premier Rental Purchase.
According to the FTC, DesignerWare’s software contained a kill switch the rent-to-own stores could use to disable a computer if it was stolen, or if the renter failed to make timely payments. DesignerWare also had an add-on program known as “Detective Mode” that supposedly helped rent-to-own stores locate rented computers and collect late payments. When Detective Mode was activated, the software could log key strokes, capture screen shots and take photographs using the computer’s webcam, as well as track the physical location of the computers. It also presented a fake registration screen that tricked people into providing their personal contact information.
Data gathered by DesignerWare and provided to rent-to-own stores using Detective Mode revealed private details about computer users, like user names and passwords for email, social media, and bank accounts; Social Security numbers; medical records; private emails to doctors; bank and credit card statements; and webcam pictures of children, partially undressed individuals, and intimate activities at home, according to the FTC.
The proposed settlement orders will ban the software company and the rent-to-own stores from using monitoring software like Detective Mode and will ban them from using deception to gather any information from consumers. They also will prohibit the use of geolocation tracking without consumer consent and notice, and bar the use of fake registration screens to collect personal information. In addition, DesignerWare will be barred from providing others with the means to commit illegal acts, and the seven rent-to-own stores will be prohibited from using information improperly gathered from consumers in connection with debt collection. All the proposed settlements contain record keeping requirements to allow the FTC to monitor compliance with the orders for the next 20 years.