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 chainAaron’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.