Computer rental company spyware

The Federal Trade Commission will prevent seven computer rental companies from spying on customers in a new settlement reached today. The businesses were caught stealing pictures, screenshots, and sensitive information from customers.

“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,” said FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz in a statement. “The FTC orders today will put an end to their cyberspying.”

A company by the name of DesignerWare licensed the spyware out to the seven rental companies. The software was intended to track the location of rented computers in the case a unit was stolen, lost or abandoned. It also let the rental company shut down the computer if the renter stops paying. The FTC came down on the the businesses for not informing their customers that the software was installed and tracking the units’ locations.

But the software goes further than that. It has a separate function called “Detective Mode” that makes up the majority of the spyware. In this mode, administrators at the rental company logged keystrokes, took screenshots, and turned on the computer’s camera to take pictures of the surrounding area. The FTC says bank account information, private emails sent to doctors, and pictures of children, as well as “partially undressed individuals” were all stolen by the rental companies.

The FTC names Aaron’s, ColorTime, and Premier Rental Purchase as three of the rental companies involved.

In the settlement, the FTC banned both DesignerWare and the seven rental companies from using “Detective Mode.” The FTC specifies that customers must be made aware of any activity on their computers, including GPS tracking, and also banned the use of a “fake software registration screens” that the rental companies used to phish private information from customers.

hat tip The Hill; Spying image via Shutterstock