The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has identified a number of seven rent-to-own companies and one software developer that spied on customers by installing spyware on computers. The culprits were charged with breaking the law by secretly harvesting sensitive information and using it to make a profit.
According to the FTC, the stores owned by Aspen Way Enterprises, Watershed Development, Showplace, Red Zone, B. Stamper Enterprises, J.A.G. Rents, and C.A.L.M. Ventures installed spy applications - provided by DesignerWare - on the computers they rented.
The software enabled them to capture screenshots of personal information, log keystrokes, and even take pictures via the computer’s webcam. Of course, these activities were taking place without the customers’ knowledge or consent.
Apparently, the software design firm DesignerWare provided the rent-to-own stores with a piece of software that would help them track and recover the rented computers. This application came with a couple of additional features: a kill switch and a “Detective Mode.”
While the kill switch could be used to disable devices in case they were stolen or the customer failed to pay up, the Detective Mode allowed them to do a whole lot more. Its official purpose was to secretly locate rented computers, but it could also be leveraged to collect personal details, capture screenshots and take pictures with the webcam.
The FTC found that DesignerWare gathered social security numbers, medical records, usernames and passwords for various online accounts, bank and credit card statements, and even pictures of partially undressed individuals.
All the companies have agreed to settle. As a result, the FTC banned them from using monitoring software and utilizing deceptive means to gather information.
“An agreement to rent a computer doesn’t give a company license to access consumers’ private emails, bank account information, and medical records, or, even worse, webcam photos of people in the privacy of their own homes,” explained FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz.
“The FTC orders today will put an end to their cyber spying.”