The stores didn't just activate the software if a laptop went missing. They apparently did it for entertainment as well. Or so says this report from GoErie.com:
A former sales manager at an Aaron's store owned by a franchisee in the state of Washington told the judge that in her experience, the detective mode of the software, PC Rental Agent, was used not only in cases of "stolen" merchandise.
Some managers stored data that was collected secretly from customers' computers, said Chastity Hittinger.
She said she had seen screen shots of customer's bank accounts and Macy's bills and a photo that captured a woman sitting at her computer smoking a marijuana water pipe.
When asked what the managers did with the data, she said, "They would just sit around and joke about it."
The rental franchisees named in the suit operated stores under the following brands: Aaron's Inc., Aspen Way Enterprises, Watershed Development Corp., Showplace Rent-to-Own, ColorTyme, and Premier Rental Purchase. Make a note of that, next time you're thinking about renting something.
Also named was DesignerWare LLC, which is based in North East, Pa., on the shores of Lake Erie. That's about a seven-hour drive from Lower Merion, which had its own webcam spying scandal a few years back involving high school student laptops.
If this keeps up, Pennsylvania will have to change its state motto from the Keystone State to the Peephole State.
This spying scandal only became public thanks to Brian and Crystal Byrd of Casper, Wyo. They had rented a Dell Inspiron from Aarons and had just made the final payment in October 2010 when a store manager showed up on their doorstep holding a photo of them captured via the Inspiron's webcam. The store had failed to record their final payment and mistakenly assumed the Byrds were welching on their bill. The store manager was there to collect. You can imagine how that went.
The FTC can't issue criminal charges, only civil ones, and its attorneys decided the agency couldn't sue these companies under its charter, either. So the settlement consists of these companies agreeing to take their spy toys and put them away in the closet. No harm, no foul, no fine.
On the other hand, the angry Byrds have filed a class action lawsuit. I hope they sue the pants off all of these companies. Lord knows they've seen enough of their customers without pants.
Do rental companies have the right to spy on their customers? Vent your spleen below or email me: firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article, "Rented PCs secretly spy on customers; perps get no punishment," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the crazy twists and turns of the tech industry with Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Field blog, and subscribe to Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter.