FTC: Rented computers spied on customers, secretly snapped pics

The Federal Trade Commission reached a settlement on Tuesday with seven computer rental companies over charges that the companies used software to spy on their customers.

The FTC said the companies captured screenshots, logged keystrokes and even activated the computer webcams to take pictures of people in their homes. The customers were not told about the spying software.

The settlement, which was reached with the rental companies and the software firm that provided the spying technology, doesn't include any fines. The companies agreed to stop using the spying software and not to deceive customers about data-collection in the future. Future violations could result in fines. 

“An agreement to rent a computer doesn’t give a company license to access consumers’ private emails, bank account information, and medical records, or, even worse, webcam photos of people in the privacy of their own homes,” FTC Chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement. “The FTC orders today will put an end to their cyber spying.”


FTC officials said the companies collected personal information, including Social Security numbers, medical records, private emails, credit card statements, user names and passwords, and even took webcam pictures of children and partially undressed people.

The FTC partnered with Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan on the case.

The rental companies bought a program from software company DesignerWare that could shut down a rental computer if it was stolen or if the renter failed to make timely payments. 

According to the FTC's complaint, the program also included "Detective Mode," which, when activated, could log key strokes, capture screenshots and take photographs using the computer's webcam.

The program also used a fake registration screen that tricked consumers into providing their personal contact information, the FTC alleged.

The rental companies are Aspen Way Enterprises, Watershed Development Corp., Showplace Rent-to-Own, ColorTyme, Premier Rental Purchase and Premier Rental Purchase.