updated 10:22 pm EDT, Tue September 25, 2012
Software allows for keylogging, remote webcam operation
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has settled with seven rent-to-own companies and software developer DesignerWare charged with using spyware to monitor locations, passwords, and other personal details of more than 420,000 customers leasing computers. A feature of a pre-installed piece of monitoring software allowed monitoring of renters, including location, websites visited, and the ability to remotely turn on the webcam on the leased computer.
"In numerous instances, data gathered by Detective Mode has revealed private, confidential, and personal details about the computer user," said FTC officials in a court filing. Giving examples, the filing claimed that "keystroke logs have displayed usernames and passwords for access to e-mail accounts, social media websites, and financial institutions." While consumers were informed of the installed software, the renters were never informed of the depth of data potentially collected by the companies.
A couple discovered the rental software in 2010 when a final payment on a Dell Inspiron laptop wasn't recorded, and rental company Aaron's sent a store manager to repossess the computer. The renters were presented with a photo of the couple using the computer taken with the webcam as proof that the couple possessed the computer.
The couple called the police after the incident, and an investigation discovered the rental company routinely installed the software on all of Aaron's computers. The investigators reported that the software allowed routine web camera remote operation, screenshots, and keystroke recording without the customer's knowledge or consent.
The PC Rental Agent software is advertised as a way to keep track of rental computers and disable the computer if customers fail to pay. The product was allegedly sold to Aaron's specifically because it is undetectable to users.
Rental companies named in the settlement include Premier Rental Purchase, ColorTyme, Showplace Rent-to-Own, Watershed, and the previously mentioned Aaron's. Over 2000 stores have potentially installed the software between the five listed chains spread across seven companies.
According to the court filing, the FTC had evidence of remote webcam capture of sexual activity, partially dressed individuals, and images of children. Under the proposed settlement, the rental companies agreed to cease collecting data and fully disclose the purpose and scope of the installed monitoring software pre-installed on the computers. [via Ars Technica]