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Aaron Computer Rental Firm Spies On Users 510

Posted by timothy
from the they-learned-it-from-school-in-pennsylvania dept.
An anonymous reader writes with word from Yahoo news of a lawsuit "filed on behalf of a Wyoming couple who said they learned about the PC Rental Agent 'device and/or software' inside the computer they rented last year when an Aaron's Inc. store manager in Casper came to their home on Dec. 22. The manager tried to repossess the computer because he mistakenly believed the couple hadn't finished paying for it, the couple said. Brian Byrd, 26, said the manager showed him a picture of Byrd using the computer — taken by the computer's webcam. The image was shot with the help of spying software, which the lawsuit contends is made by North East, Pa.-based Designerware LLC and is installed on all Aaron's rental computers."
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Aaron Computer Rental Firm Spies On Users

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  • Re:Whoops (Score:5, Insightful)

    by MoonBuggy (611105) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @10:28PM (#36019680) Journal

    These stupid companies think they can treat their customers like children and very occasionally they don't get away with it.

    FTFY.

  • Shocking (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hinesbrad (1923872) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @10:30PM (#36019688)
    Wow. A company that built a fortune based on scummy financial deals is being discovered for scummy conduct on computers it sells. Shocking.
  • Rent a computer? (Score:5, Insightful)

    by PhreakOfTime (588141) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @10:37PM (#36019744) Homepage

    There was an ad around here not too long ago about something similar. While I was listening to it, they obviously mentioned the 'monthly price' and the length of the term. Before the commercial was over I had done the math in my head, and the laptop ended up costing almost 4X the amount it would have otherwise cost.

    I imagine this is probably similar. Anyone who signs such a deal should immediately be enrolled in a math class that will sufficiently explain amortization costs in such a situation. They should then be able to pass an exam that proves they are aware of what the real cost is, in a single number, over the rental term.

    There is a reason the phrase 'A fool and his money are soon parted' exists, I suppose.

  • by Penguinshit (591885) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @10:42PM (#36019776) Homepage Journal
    even when Ma Bell owned the telephones and only leased them to private homes they still needed a warrant to eavesdrop on calls. In the case of corporate resources, those are provided with the expectation that anything done with them is work product (which the company owns).
  • Re:Whoops (Score:3, Insightful)

    by PhreakOfTime (588141) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @10:42PM (#36019780) Homepage

    Well, in this case they are right. This guy has the math skills of a child. If he's lucky. Have you ever worked out the costs of that? Some of the rental ones around here end up being over 4X the price of outright buying it, over just 15 months of payments.

    He shouldn't be allowed to sign a contract that involves math in any way whatsoever.

  • by fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @10:49PM (#36019822) Journal
    Given that this specific case involved a computer that had been paid off(and, unless demonstrated otherwise, strongly suggests that they don't remove their bugs upon transfer of ownership generally...) I suspect that they would likely be up shit creek under such laws in this circumstance.

    More generally, I'd imagine that it depends how much the judicial/jury opinion falls under the sway of soothing babble about "legitimate digital asset management practices..." and how much it falls under the "Yeah, this is pretty much like I was renting an apartment, so my landlord decided he could install a camera in my shower" analogy.

    Precedent could allow them quite substantial leeway if this case gets linked to the "the Company owns and watches everything you do while in the building" body of case law; but if it falls in with the body of precedent concerning rented dwellings and other things with long and emotively engaging histories, they could have Serious Issues.

    If, of course, anybody finds a cache of kiddie porn being generated by the sorts of bored sleazeballs who would work for a rent-to-own company using the spyware, heads will probably roll.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @10:59PM (#36019906)

    I'm interested to read these comments regarding the fiscal foolishness of renting and have thought the exact same things when seen similar advertisements. I do wonder if the very rich would say the same about us in regards to buying land and houses though - how many times do we pay for our house at 7% PA over 25 years? Also how many of us have bought computers and gear on our credit cards at 15% PA or something?

    It is true that the fool and his money are easily parted but I'm not so convinced that we're that much better than those who rent computers sometimes...

    I do feel for those who really struggle and I think some of these attitudes (which I'm guilty off also) are a bit harsh. They're also seemingly more vulnerable to other illogical deals (in regards to the maths) like going in lotteries and other gambling (gee how does that casino pay for all that fancy stuff?). They use pawn brokers for temporary loans at ridiculous interest rates and are more prone to buy shonky cars with limited life/value again at bad interest rates etc.

    I'm not any kind of expert in socialology but I'm sure there would have been studies and research done in how the poor are more susceptible to being tricked out of their already meagre resources. Its pretty easy for us "middle class" folks to be a bit wiser and more informed in such things.

  • by Local ID10T (790134) <ID10T.L.USER@gmail.com> on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @11:03PM (#36019948) Homepage

    So yet again the same lesson: _never_ trust a computer on which you have not installed the OS yourself, and kept 100% secure from malware.

    It just boggles my mind seeing people use these computers from big box stores loaded up with crapware, without having the first idea what all that shit does. Why would you use a computer like that? It's idiotic. This case is an even worse example: you trusted the OS that was there, which came complete with spyware.

    You are a computer geek. It is obvious to YOU, not so obvious to the general public (aka Joe Sixpack).

    Do you use a (modern) car? How about a cellphone? Do you know what all of it's components do? Do you know what data is being recorded about your daily habits? Do you know who has access to that data? Or do you just trust the engineers who designed it and the technician who maintains it for you?

    Most people make a compromise between functionality and control. We don't know how to make or do everything, so we trust others to do it for us. Sometimes they fuck us. Sometimes we don't like getting fucked by anyone besides Ms Wallace... so we call in a couple of hard hitting attorneys and get medieval on their asses. (yes, that's a bad Pulp Fiction reference...)

  • Re:Whoops (Score:5, Insightful)

    by dragonturtle69 (1002892) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @11:12PM (#36020012)

    Or maybe it just proves, further, that the poor get screwed.

    If you have $1,000, you can buy that laptop you didn't plan for, and so didn't save for, but would be really useful now that you are starting higher education. On the other hand, if your income dictates a 12 month period of saving to get that $1,000, chances are that your window of opportunity for schooling has closed before you have the hardware.

    Enter the rent-to-own industry, giving you long term low monthly payments, with what amounts to incredible interest rates. The payday advance places are the same. If you make good money, you'll never fell their sting. If you make really good money, you'll never pay interest period, just handling fees.

    And now they have, if the story is true, real spyware. What type of dirtbag, including the school "officials" reported a few months back using the webcams on student laptops, spies on someone in this manner?

  • Rent To Own (Score:5, Insightful)

    by wlandman (964814) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @11:22PM (#36020076)
    Many people are taking an arrogant view of these people and there math skills. Yet those same people leaving comments live in houses they couldn't afford to buy outright. They drive cars, they can't afford either. I think most people use the Rent-To-Own because of cash-flow problems, not stupidity. Remember, it only takes one major emergency to help you lose everything. Don't laugh or look down upon these people.
  • by demonlapin (527802) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @11:33PM (#36020140) Homepage Journal
    You would, but you probably have savings accounts, home access to the Internet, a credit card, a stable address, nobody trying to steal your pocket money for drugs/booze/etc, and a lot more intelligence than these people. If you ban check cashing places, people go to pawn shops; if you ban pawn shops, they go to loan sharks. Rent-to-own is part of the same continuum, in which people who are bad credit risks are able to obtain things they want (but can't afford in lump sum, and won't save up enough to purchase) quickly and easily in return for paying a high cost (that covers the enormous risk of default).

    Even when I made the equivalent of $22k/yr in today's money, I didn't do these things. That's one of the many reasons that I'm not still making $22k/year. These people can't delay gratification enough to save up, nor are they smart enough to earn a lot more. The best path is a tough call, because the renters-to-own aren't going to get any smarter - all we can change is whether or not it is possible to lend to them profitably.
  • Re:Whoops (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Xtravar (725372) on Tuesday May 03, 2011 @11:55PM (#36020238) Homepage Journal

    I put tape over my work laptop's webcam. A little paranoid... perhaps... but it makes me feel better.

  • Re:Whoops (Score:3, Insightful)

    by d6 (1944790) on Wednesday May 04, 2011 @12:11AM (#36020334)
    That has been my habit ever since cams started showing up in every single screen/laptop I buy.
    Nothing wrong with covering a cam you are not going to use and plenty right about it if your shit gets rooted.
  • by MimeticLie (1866406) on Wednesday May 04, 2011 @12:16AM (#36020364)

    It provides ability to view screenshots and take webcam shots but it is only used when a computer is reported stolen and we have a copy of a police report than we utilize it.

    Clearly that isn't the case.

  • Re:Whoops (Score:2, Insightful)

    by c6gunner (950153) on Wednesday May 04, 2011 @12:53AM (#36020548)

    Or maybe it just proves, further, that the poor get screwed.

    No, it shows that the poor are generally poor for a reason. Consider: you claim that a person who cannot afford a $1,000 computer must therefore go out and pay $156 per month to rent one. A "poor person" who is serially-poor - or a "not poor person" who is bad at finances but has a high enough paycheck to keep him going - would probably agree with your assessment. A temporarily or formerly "poor person" - or a "not poor person" with common sense - would point out that you can buy a second-hand laptop for $200-$300. In the event that the "poor person" cannot even afford $300, the "not-poor-person" with common sense would point out that a $156 payments saved over 2 months equals $300, and that during the said 2 months it's quite possible to just use the computers at the local library. In other words, people who know how to manage and leverage their money either aren't poor, or don't stay poor for long; those who ARE poor will continue to make poor decisions when it comes to managing their money, and will remain poor.

    Of course, I'm not rejecting the idea of credit outright; sometimes it makes sense to take out a loan and pay interest. However, I know plenty of people who make more money than I do yet have less disposable income simply because of their loaning habits. I've yet to run into a poor person who was good at math.

  • Re:Whoops (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Arcady13 (656165) on Wednesday May 04, 2011 @12:56AM (#36020566) Homepage
    The average savings account is $20,000? I don't know anyone with more than $5000 in savings, and the average people in the US save per year is less than $500.

    That said, these rental places should be avoided like the plague. At least use a low-interest credit card if you must buy on credit.
  • Re:Whoops (Score:5, Insightful)

    by hairyfeet (841228) <bassbeast1968.gmail@com> on Wednesday May 04, 2011 @01:06AM (#36020612) Journal

    Or maybe it just shows the laws in this country allow the poor to be assraped at will? My GF before I met her ended up having to get a rent to own PC after losing damned near everything but the clothes on her back in a fire. Not only did they royally rip her off on the payments but when she brought it in for a cleaning, which was part of the agreement they ripped off some of the parts and didn't even take a can of fricking air to it!

    Soon after we had started dating she asked me to look at it while she was cooking supper (I'm used to it, we PC repairmen are like plumbers that way) and I take one look at the specs VS what it says on the label and I knew she'd been had. Sure enough she called the rent a center the next day and they basically told her "yeah well try to prove it. Sue us and see how far you get".

    These assholes make fricking used car salesman look like paragons of honor. They KNOW these poor folks don't know what PCs cost or what is a good chip VS a bad chip, so they gouge the living hell out of them and then on top rip them off any other way they can! I thought the guys at Worst Buy were bad, but at least the guys I knew there were only sniffing around for free porn and MP3s to copy, these rent a ripoffs as I call them are true scum of the earth! And didn't we have laws against usury and outrageous interests rates? WTF happened to those?

    That is why you should tell your friends and relatives, especially those that are poor or have poor kinfolk, talk to your local mom&pop shop. We're decent folks and we try our damnedest not to cause someone pain in the wallet. Hell I got three of them right now that is paying me my labor costs at $10-$30 a paycheck, simply because they couldn't afford parts and labor at once, so I found them the cheapest kit deals i could find and let them just pay for the parts and pay my labor as they could, interest free. I'd rather get paid for my time in dribs and drabs than see someone get assraped at these rent a ripoffs. Besides I've found you treat folks right the referrals will keep you busy. These leeches are frankly a blight, no different that those check cashing shysters.

  • by fermion (181285) on Wednesday May 04, 2011 @01:16AM (#36020662) Homepage Journal
    which is all fine and good if the customer was told about this and they initialed next to the section indicating that the capability is there and some random tech would have the ability to watch yo uhave sex so maybe the computer should go somewhere else. Of course if the customer knew, they would tape the camera. So that would defeat the purpose.

    What we are talking about is is the right of a firm to have a customer sign away basic rights. For instance, would Aaron's include a cluase that if the rent was late, a rep would have the right to molest a person, child or adult, in the family of thier choice. Of course not. Then why should Aaron's have the right to watch a peep show. Sure the policy is that this feature will only be used under certain circumstances, and I am sure 99.9999% of the well paid professionals that have access to the computer will do this, but really, why take the risk that the one remaining employee is not going to be jacking off to some kid? What is the rational? To catch the customers that say the computer was stolen but in fact are still using it? Does Aarons have such equipment on furniture and TV so they can watch kids make out? I think not, yet they are doing well without it.

    This is just a case where a firm is being an arrogant dumbass. If the customers were told and they initialed their consent, then I am wrong. If the customers do not know that some creppy guy is potentially watching the kids run around the trailer, then Aarons deserves to be sued for all it can be sued for. It is not because the business model is inherently bad. It is because firms all to often think they can do anything for profit. Sell drugs to kids, frisk customers on the way out, intimidate them into an upsale. As consumers, even those with just enough money to rent to own, we must assert ourselves as the powerful agents in this relationship. After all, we are the ones that have the money, and the retailers are the one's who need it. By accepting the fiction that we are the weak one's, we allow the retailers to screw us.

  • Re:Whoops (Score:4, Insightful)

    by vivian (156520) on Wednesday May 04, 2011 @02:19AM (#36020948)

    You need to widen your circle of friends then - or teach them how to start saving. Anyone should be able to reduce their cost of living to that it is 90% of their income, and save the remaining 10%. It's all a question of living within your means, and learning how to save so you don't have to depend on the state or your kids to support you when you retire.

  • Re:Whoops (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Nick Ives (317) on Wednesday May 04, 2011 @02:42AM (#36021026)

    I bet $20,000 is the mean amount in savings, which would be pushed up by all the {m,b}illionaires.

    I wonder what the modal average savings is? I bet it's a lot lower.

  • Re:Whoops (Score:4, Insightful)

    by jimicus (737525) on Wednesday May 04, 2011 @04:52AM (#36021622)

    So what you're saying is, maybe all those people who tell you that you should never, ever buy anything on credit (because credit is evil and you should always buy everything with cash), should get a crash course on something called "opportunity cost"? It's not as if it's hard for a student to get a credit card.

    These companies don't aim at people who can easily get a credit card. I don't know what it's like where you are, but here in the UK they've got very flashy window displays proudly announcing things like "Poor credit history? No proof of earnings? Not a homeowner? No problem!". The actual final price you wind up being stung for is carefully hidden.

    They'll sell to more-or-less anyone, and the business model is clear - their customers have a high risk of not paying, but that doesn't matter too much because the item that was sold under a 12 or 24 month contract was actually paid for in the first 3-6 months. Provided the customer continues to pay for longer than that, you're in profit. And they often will, because you're not the sort of company that writes a few rude letters before taking someone to court over missed payments. You're the sort of company that sends around a couple of big, threatening-looking men to take the item away if payment is so much as 10 days late.

    Such companies are vultures, they prey on a section of society that wants the latest toys but cannot hope to afford them. But they're very well dressed, very smart vultures with high street business premises, which is enough for the target market not to realise what they're letting themselves in for until it's far too late.

  • Re:Whoops (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Hazel Bergeron (2015538) on Wednesday May 04, 2011 @07:22AM (#36022316) Journal

    (1) Median is not mean;

    (2) I've never met a decent rich guy, and I was brought up in a significantly privileged environment - while I've never used money to decide on my friends, I've never been able to form a lasting friendship with anyone of significant means as they have all failed at demonstrating kindness/selflessness/generosity/etc and end up taking advantage of me when I try to demonstrate same. Causation no, but correlation certainly;

    (3) People in debt (e.g. medical bills) don't get to save anything, let alone 10%;

    (4) Many people live on the bread line - for any given location, recalling the cost of transport, there is a typical minimum wage which reflects the absolute minimum needed to survive. Many people are on this wage. The idea that you can always "save the remaining 10%" is inherently irrational and contrary to basic market theory: if it's an employers' market, employers will pay the absolute minimum to keep their employees alive and working;

    (5) Telling people to "live within your means" is another way of saying, "I should get to enjoy life more than you so please continue suffering so that I can maintain my enjoyment." While I live well below my means, I don't begrudge anyone who feels he should have no less than the greatest glutton;

    (6) You pay the state when you work to support you when you cannot. If taxation were at the level of, say, the US 150 years ago, then you might have an argument. It is not and you do not.

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