"Consumers have a right to rent computers free of cyberspying and to know when and how they are being tracked by a company," said
Specifically, the FTC's complaint accused the company of knowingly permitting -- and in many cases assisting -- its franchisees to install PC Rental Agent software on computers rented to its customers. The software enabled franchisees to track the users' location and access their login information for email, social media and financial accounts.
The software contained a feature called "Detective Mode," which made it possible for the franchisees to monitor keystrokes, capture screen shots and transmit software registration screens intended to encourage computer users to divulge personal and financial information.
Unbeknownst to the users, this feature also was able to activate their webcams, capturing and storing images from within their homes.
"Detective Mode's surreptitious capture of the private details of individual and family life -- including images of visitors, children, family interactions, partially undressed individuals, and people engaged in intimate conduct -- caused actual consumer harm," the FTC alleged in its 17-point complaint.
Under the consent agreement, Aaron's will be required to:
Stop using monitoring equipment on its rental computers other than to provide technical assistance upon the request of its customers.
Obtain consent at the time of the rental to install technology that allows the company to track the location of its computers.
Destroy all information improperly obtained from its customers and to refrain from collecting similar information in the future.
Conduct annual monitoring and oversight of its franchisees to ensure they are not longer engaging in these activities.
The FTC action did not specify individual franchisees suspected of engaging in this practice, but a class-action suit brought this spring in a federal District Court in
A Google search of each of these companies by name did not turn up any that appeared to be operating in
In all, Aaron's operates 30 retail outlets in
An owner or manager with one of the local stores referred theJournal to corporate headquarters for comment.
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