by Dan Goodin
September 25, 2012
Spyware installed on more than 420,000 PCs
even recorded customers having sex.
Seven rent-to-own companies and a software developer have settled federal
charges that they used spyware to monitor the locations, passwords, and
other intimate details of more than 420,000 customers who leased computers.
The software, known as
PC Rental Agent, was developed by
DesignerWare. It was licensed by more than
1,617 rent-to-own stores in the US, Canada, and Australia to report the
physical location of rented PCs.
A feature known as Detective Mode also
allowed licensees to surreptitiously monitor the activities of computer
users. Managers of rent-to-own stores could use the feature to turn on
webcams so anyone in front of the machine would secretly be recorded.
Managers could also use the software to log
keystrokes and take screen captures.
"In numerous instances, data gathered by
Detective Mode has revealed private, confidential, and personal details
about the computer user," officials with the Federal Trade Commission
(FTC) wrote in a civil complaint filed earlier this year.
"For example, keystroke logs have displayed
usernames and passwords for access to e-mail accounts, social media
websites, and financial institutions."
In some cases, webcam activations captured
images of children, individuals not fully clothed, and people engaged in
sexual activities, the complaint alleged.
Rental agreements never disclosed the
information that was collected,
FTC lawyers said.
PC Rental Agent also had the capability to display fake registration
When customers entered their names, addresses,
and other personal information in the forms, the data was sent to
DesignerWare servers and then e-mailed to the rent-to-own licensees.
In addition to DesignerWare, the FTC action named,
Billings, Montana-based Aspen Way Inc.
Russellville, Kentucky-based B Stamper
Enterprises, which operated under the name Premier Rental Purchase
Nashville, Tennessee-based C.A.L.M.
Ventures Inc., which also operated under the name Premier Rental
Tampa, Florida-based J.A.G. Rents, which
operated under the name ColorTyme
Dallas, Texas-based Red Zone Investment
Group, which also operated under the name ColorTyme
Marion, Ohio-based Showplace Inc., which
operated under the name Showplace Rent-to-Own and Showplace
Lake Bluff, Illinois-based Watershed
Development Corp., which operated under the names Watershed and
Aaron’s Sales & Lease Ownership
Under the proposed settlement, the defendants
agreed to curb data-collecting software on rental PCs and also to stop using
deception to gather any information from consumers.
The settlement is subject to public comment for
30 days, after which the FTC will decide whether to make it final.
Note: See also "PC
rental store accused of using webcams, keyloggers on customers."