PC rental store accused of using webcams, keyloggers on customers By Jacqui Cheng
Built-in webcams are becoming more and more common in computers these days, and in turn, they are becoming more and more of a liability. A Wyoming couple is now accusing national rent-to-own chain Aaron's Inc. of spying on them at home using their rented computer's webcam without their knowledge. Aaron's also allegedly used a keylogger and took regular screenshots of the couple's activities on the machine, leading the couple to file a class-action lawsuit in the US District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania.
According to the complaint filed on Tuesday, Aaron's has been using a product called "PC Rental Agent" on its rent-to-own machines since at least 2007 in order to "surreptitiously access, monitor, intercept, and/or transmit electronic communications" made by Aaron's customers. Created by a company called DesignerWare, PC Rental Agent is advertised as a way to keep track of rent-to-own computers and lock out customers who fail to pay. According to the lawsuit, the product was sold to Aaron's under the guise that it was undetectable by users, and Aaron's apparently conceals the fact that it has the ability to monitor customers' activity when marketing its services.
Crystal and Brian Byrd found this out the hard way in 2010 when they rented a Dell Inspiron laptop from Aaron's, which they paid off in full in October of 2010—one month ahead of schedule. Aaron's didn't record the last payment correctly, however, leading an Aaron's store manager to show up at the Byrd home in December in order to repossess the computer. The store manager then produced a photo of Brian Byrd using the machine, taken with the Inspiron's webcam, as apparent "proof" that the Byrds were still using the computer.
The Byrds ended up calling the police, and an investigation later concluded that Aaron's "routinely installed the PC Rental Agent" on all of Aaron's rent-to-own computers. Law enforcement confirmed that the product indeed permitted the company to routinely take webcam photos, screenshots, and log the keystrokes of its customers without their knowledge or consent.
It's unclear how many other photos Aaron's might have collected on the family, but Brian Byrd told the Associated Press that he was concerned about the content of photos that were potentially taken of his wife and child.
"Crystal gets online before she gets a shower and checks her grades. Who knows? They could print that stuff off there and take it home with them," Byrd told the AP. "I've got a 5-year-old boy who runs around all day and sometimes he gets out of the tub running around for 20, 30 seconds while we're on the computer. What if they took a picture of that? I wouldn't want that kind of garbage floating around out there."