Rented PCs secretly spy on customers; perps get no punishment

Seven computer rental stores who spied on customers having sex, smoking dope, and worse via webcams have settled with the FTC and agreed to put their spy toys away. No harm, no foul?

Interested in a fabulous career as an Internet exhibitionist? It's easy. Just rent a computer from a sleazy company and let nature take its course.

Yesterday the FTC announced a settlement with a half-dozen computer rent-to-own companies that have been using spyware and webcams to literally watch their customers doing the nasty. Using software built by DesignerWare LLC called PC Rental Agent, employees at rental stores across the nation were able to spy on as many as 420,000 rented machines -- turning on their webcams, capturing their screens, and logging their keystrokes -- all without telling customers.

[ Want to cash in on your IT experiences? InfoWorld is looking for stories of an amazing or amusing IT adventure, lesson learned, or tales from the trenches. Send your story to offtherecord@infoworld.com. If we publish it, we'll keep you anonymous and send you a $50 American Express gift cheque. ]

PC Rental Agent has a feature called "Detective Mode," which can capture all of this data from a rented PC every two minutes, if desired. Per the original FTC complaint (PDF):

When activated, Detective Mode can also cause a computer's webcam to surreptitiously photograph not only the computer user, but also anyone else within view of the camera. In numerous instances, Detective Mode webcam activations have taken pictures of children, individuals not fully clothed, and couples engaged in sexual activities.

It actually gets worse. Aside from the prurient videos, the rental companies also snagged private emails, Social Security numbers, bank and credit card statements, photos, and medical records. If that's not sleazy enough for you, the software served up fake registration forms, pretending to be from legitimate software programs, in order to capture more info about each customer.

1 2 Page
From CIO: 8 Free Online Courses to Grow Your Tech Skills
Join the discussion
Be the first to comment on this article. Our Commenting Policies