Wired reports reports software maker DesignerWare and seven rent-to-own laptop companies settled charges with the FTC for violating customers' privacy.
Bundled with the laptops from these rent-to-own companies is PC Rental Agent, a software tool from DesignerWare that includes a kill switch to disable the computer in case of theft, or when payments aren't made. Additionally, the software also has a "Detective Mode", which is basically a piece of spyware that can log key stores, take screenshots, and capture images from the laptop's webcam.
The FTC reports the companies abused the software to spy on users, including taking "pictures of children, individuals not fully clothed, and couples engaged in sexual activities". The settlement requires them to halt using the spy tools, which are employed on as many as 420,000 rental laptops.
Under the settlement, the companies can still use tracking software on their rental computers, so long as they advise renters, the FTC said. The companies include Aspen Way Enterprises Inc.; Watershed Development Corp.; Showplace Inc., doing business as Showplace Rent-to-Own; J.A.G. Rents LLC, doing business as ColorTyme; Red Zone Inc., doing business as ColorTyme; B. Stamper Enterprises Inc., doing business as Premier Rental Purchase; and C.A.L.M. Ventures Inc., doing business as Premier Rental Purchase.
Claudia Bourne Farrell, an FTC spokeswoman, said in a telephone interview the agency does not have jurisdiction when it comes to criminal offenses. She said the agency, when it believes criminal conduct may have occurred, will forward that to the appropriate agencies. But the agency, she said, has a policy against disclosing when it has done so.
The companies were not fined because the FTC does not have the authority to impose civil fines.