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Privacy Crime

Rental Business Aaron's Admits Role In Spying On Customers 119

Posted by timothy
from the but-yer-honor-we-didn't-enjoy-it dept.
New submitter bhv writes "After firmly denying that it used software on its rent-to-own computers to spy on customers, including capturing passwords, sensitive financial information and images of private intimate moments, Atlanta-based Aaron's has owned up to the practice in a settlement with the Federal Trade Commission."
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Rental Business Aaron's Admits Role In Spying On Customers

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  • I wonder, if the NSA (with their own bugs) has anonymously helped FTC prosecute this case the way they help [rt.com] ATF, DEA, and even local police prosecute theirs.
  • A settlement? (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 24, 2013 @10:34AM (#45223291)

    I would do jail time if I tried to pull that shit.

    • Re:A settlement? (Score:5, Insightful)

      by flogger (524072) <non@nonegiven> on Thursday October 24, 2013 @11:11AM (#45223793) Journal
      Yes you would do time.

      because

      You are not the government.

      You are not a corporation.

      You are not wealthy enough to own lawyers.

      You are not wealthy enough to own politician.

    • by sjames (1099)

      Jail time? You'd do that and then be a registered sex offender for activating the webcams.

    • If you operated a business and some of your franchisees did something you didn't know about? Because that is the "that shit" you're talking about.

      Franchisees got nailed, customers filed class action, Aarons had no defense due to prior suit.

      " September 2012 â" The Federal Trade Commission settles spying claims against the maker of PC Rental Agent, Designerware LLC, as well as seven of Aaronâ(TM)s rent-to-own franchisees. The settlement bars the software maker and the franchisees from further spying

  • Settlements are not admissions of guilt in the court of law, but certainly implies it. So the company added tracking software for this purpose: "The software was included on laptops and desktops so Aaron’s and its franchisees could recover unreturned computer equipment.". Granted it collected too much info.

    • by sjames (1099)

      And did so without regard to payment status. And they activated the webcams.

      IF they had confined that exclusively to cases where the rental was past due or lapsed strictly for the purpose of recovering the equipment, it would be a bit less sinister.

      • They activated webcams? I didn't see that in the article, and WOW is that crossing a line. I take back my original comment.

  • Whether it is some random PC or even a Mac, I always pop in the original OS disk and wipe it clean. I don't trust software that came from someplace other then me watching it install. Granted, the restore DVD probably isn't any safer, but it is the thought that counts!
    • If these were "rental", people probably didn't have an original OS disk. And messing with the system like that would probably be considered a flag that someone was trying to steal it. At the very least, it would be against the lease, like modifying a leased car.
      • by Deadstick (535032) on Thursday October 24, 2013 @10:49AM (#45223505)

        IANAL, but "rent-to-own" seldom really functions as a rental; it's effectively an installment sales contract in which you pay more interest than your state allows on real installment loans, in return for having walk-away rights.

        • by Wycliffe (116160) on Thursday October 24, 2013 @11:02AM (#45223691) Homepage

          IANAL, but "rent-to-own" seldom really functions as a rental; it's effectively an installment sales contract in which you pay more interest than your state allows on real installment loans, in return for having walk-away rights.

          Although this is their target market, the "rent-to-own" purchases by the payday cash loan crowd, no sane people should
          ever use them to actually buy something as the price is usually double or more before you're finished.
          Using them as a rental is actually fairly reasonable though if you need furniture for a month or a big TV for a superbowl party.

          • Using them as a rental is actually fairly reasonable though if you need furniture for a month or a big TV for a superbowl party.

            Ironically, most of Aarons' customers would use Wal-Mart for that (i.e., they'd "buy" the TV the day before the Superbowl, return it the day after, and thus spend nothing on the "rental").

            • This is not limited to those lower class people this topic is (rightly-ish) being snooty about.
              In upper middle market dept stores people buy expensive rugs for fancy house parties and then return them 3 days later as: "Not quite right for our new interior décor, unfortuantely."
              "It really was disappointing as it looked so wonderful here in the shop."
        • by tompaulco (629533)

          IANAL, but "rent-to-own" seldom really functions as a rental; it's effectively an installment sales contract in which you pay more interest than your state allows on real installment loans, in return for having walk-away rights.

          Quite right. With the addition that when you miss one of the usury payments, they take the stuff back, often after you have paid several multiples of the retail price of the item.

        • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday October 24, 2013 @11:35AM (#45224093)

          Apparently they weren't "rent-to-own" but rent-to-be-pwned.

    • The typical Rent-To-Own customer is not likely to know to do this, nor to have the skills to do this.

      Some of us will say that they deserve what they get for not hiring a professional to administer their personal computer, since they sure as hell don't know what they're doing.

    • by antdude (79039)

      Do you trust your original OS disk? :P

  • I wonder if I would get a simple fine if I systematically hacked into thousands of people's computers to watch "intimate moments."

    • I wonder if I would get a simple fine if I systematically hacked into thousands of people's computers to watch "intimate moments."

      Go for it, and cite this settlement as precedent.

      Equal protection under the law, right?

  • Finance-charge heavy rent-to-own place that used spy techniques to get "images of private intimate moments"?

    Looks like they figuratively have your balls in their hand two ways.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    “It’s a huge issue, and there hasn’t been enough case law to sort this out,” he said. “There is a lot of gray area about what should be done and what shouldn’t be done.”

    So if an indivdual does the same activity, it's Computer Fraud and Abuse... Jail Time, banned from electronic devices, whole world turned up-side-down.

    BUT, if your a corporation. nada. "Don't do it again" penality.

    Only in America.

  • That's what they do (Score:5, Informative)

    by Mr D from 63 (3395377) on Thursday October 24, 2013 @11:05AM (#45223727)
    Aaron's and similar rental companies are built on taking advantage of lower income folks who are not good financial decision makers. While there is an element of that with many businesses, these rental companies take it to the extreme.
    • I've seen some higher income people do this same idiocy, renting furniture and electronics
      I have to laugh at this story. "Furniture rental store screws customers" - no shit.

    • I don't understand the business case for this particular brand of spying. I don't see how things like passwords and financial data are going to help them recover a computer that wasn't returned. I can understand the webcam used for taking pictures of who is using the computer, or screenshots for looking at things like their Facebook account to identify the person by name, but other than that it seems like a huge overreach with no legitimate business purpose.

      • My guess is they purchased some software that had the ability to track the computers location so they could get them back, and they didn't really understand what else it did. While I hate these rental companies, I also sometimes hate the way these invasions of privacy are reported. The software may have had access to this information, but it might not have actually transmitted it anywhere. Its hard to tell from these reports what really happened. Whoever is selling this software maybe should have some accou
        • by bobbied (2522392)

          As I understand the companies position on this... You are about correct. They had specific software that they would install so that they could track, find and recover laptops from folks who where not paying for them or had stolen them. This is unlikely a problem if it is spelled out in the contract and ONLY used when the contract says it would be used. However, some of the company's franchisees, and/or their employees apparently found out that the software could do other things at other times and started

    • Aaron's and similar rental companies are built on taking advantage of lower income folks who are not good financial decision makers. While there is an element of that with many businesses, these rental companies take it to the extreme.

      True, but low income doesn't necessarily mean stupid, and some of these people are smart enough to figure out how to turn the tables on exploitative rent-to-own operations. I knew a guy who would look for new rent-to-own stores, and when he found one he'd walk in and sign up for their very best home entertainment package, regardless of price, and have it shipped to his living room. He'd enjoy it for a few months, always being careful to pay in full and on time, but then, inevitably, some asshole would break

  • Can a rented PC install Linux? Or have they modified it to keep its insecure spyware?

    • by Aryden (1872756)
      Yes, you can install linux. On desktops, they usually just put a lock on the case so that you can't modify the hardware but software wise, you can do pretty much anything you want.
  • Are the FTC planning on compensating the victims with the acquired settlement? How do the victims get restitution?
    • by Aryden (1872756)
      No, there was no financial settlement here. The FTC is leaving that up to the class action suits
  • So, they took photos with the webcam and even admit those photos include children. If even one of those children is in a state of undress, they took that picture and shared it with their franchisees, they should be busted for manufacture and dissemination of child pornography, because you know if that child did the same thing, those are the charges they would face.

  • If I form a LLC and then commit crimes through that LLC, can I avoid any real punishment like corporations do? Like if I buy a car through my LLC, then I am "on the clock" when I'm driving home from the bar and get a DWI, can I just reach a "settlement" and walk away. I live in wisconsin so probably, DWIs are traffic tickets on your first offence.

    When will people (as in the majority of people) start caring that there is a 2 class system of law in America, the haves and the have nots. Corporations and ric
    • by Anonymous Coward

      It's not that simple. Here you have a scenario where a group of people made the decision to put this softawre on their rentals for legitimate reasons - to cut down on theft by being able to remotely disable or track these PC's.

      Then you have a second group of people figure out that they can use this software for nefarious purposes. It seems to me that if anyone should go to jail, it should be any individual who they can prove actually used this software in an illegal manner. The software itself isn't illegal

      • Throw an exec in jail because of this? Absolutely not

        I guess I disagree. As a CEO you are responsible for the actions of your company. You sanctioned a plan to use software to recover your property and did not put adequate safeguards or training in place to prevent abuse of that software. As CEO you are responsible.

        • by BurfCurse (937117)
          I hear people say the exact same thing all the time and it scares me that people believe this. Do you really want to live in a society where you can be thrown in jail because someone, that you have limited control over, does something illegal without your knowledge? Yes, as a CEO you have a responsibility to know what your company is doing, but anyone who has ever worked for a large company knows the CEO has very little visibility into what most of a company's individual parts are doing, other than what h
          • by n7ytd (230708)

            I hear people say the exact same thing all the time and it scares me that people believe this. Do you really want to live in a society where you can be thrown in jail because someone, that you have limited control over, does something illegal without your knowledge?

            Yes, as a CEO you have a responsibility to know what your company is doing, but anyone who has ever worked for a large company knows the CEO has very little visibility into what most of a company's individual parts are doing, other than what his/her direct reports tell them.

            Maybe it wasn't the CEO, but at some level someone would have known what's going on. If not someone in a supervisor/management role, then some employee who was allegedly using company property to commit a crime. It wasn't Aaron's, Inc. that spied on people, it was a person who happened to be an employee of the company.

  • Is the settlement a tax or do the individuals
    and organizations wronged get compensated.

    In the end some legal firm will make a killing.... Hmmm killing is illegal.

  • From TFA:

    In the settlement agreement, Aaron’s did not admit or deny the allegations.

    That's a LONG way from "Aaron's has owned up to the practice" which the summary claims or the "Aaron's admits role in spying on customers" of the headline.

    This was a settlement, which meant they chose to pay $X rather than risk $(X+Y) at a trial.

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