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FTC Settles With Rent-to-Own Firm It Says Rented Out Laptops Running Spyware

Franchisees Said to Gather Over 100,000 Webcam Images, Keystroke Logs and Screenshots

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Rent-a-Big Brother, anyone? The Federal Trade Commission has approved a final order settling the charges in a case against rent-to-own firm Aaron's after alleging that company enabled its franchisees to gather more than 100,000 webcam images, keystroke logs and screenshots from laptops they rented to consumers.

The agency claimed franchisees employed surveillance software made by DesignerWare called PC Rental Agent, setting it to "Detective Mode" between 2009 and January 2012. In addition to capturing images -- which in some cases revealed home visitors, kids, nudity and intimate moments -- the software tracked physical locations of the rented computers.

In 2012, the commission announced a related settlement with DesignerWare itself, along with seven rent-to-own franchisees of Aaron's, ColorTyme and Premier Rental Purchase.

A spokeswoman for Aaron's declined to comment on Wednesday, citing continuing litigation.

"Aaron's franchisees used data it gathered via Detective Mode to assist in collecting past-due payments and recovering computers after default," an FTC spokesman told Ad Age. Consent from renters for tracking was not obtained in "numerous instances," said the agency.

There is no financial penalty for the case, which was originally settled in 2013, but the settlement bans Aaron's from employing spying software in the future.

"The FTC's complaint doesn't itemize specific examples of harm, but rather alleges that the secret collection of information via Detective Mode placed consumers at risk from the exposure of their personal, financial account access, and medical information," noted the spokesman.

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CORRECTION: The story originally stated the case had just been settled. Rather, the FTC approved the final order settling charges in the case, which was originally settled in October 2013.

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