Rent-to-Own Company Spied on Customers through Webcams
NEW YORK (MainStreet) Have you ever had the feeling that your 50-inch flat screen was watching you? If you got it from Aaron's, the national rent-to-own chain, your paranoia may be justified. While it may not be your TV doing the spying, the Federal Trade Commission says the company's rental computers secretly captured images of customers in their homes, some of which were "engaged in intimate activities."
The FTC has approved a final order settling the charges, first levied in October.
"Aaron's is prohibited from using monitoring technology to gather consumers' information from rental computers, or receiving, storing or communicating such information, except to provide technical support at a consumer's request," the FTC says in a statement. "The terms of the settlement also bar the company from gathering information from any consumer product via geophysical location tracking technology without clearly notifying and obtaining express consent from consumers at the time of rental."
Aaron's not only tapped into webcams but tracked consumers' locations and activated keyloggers on the computers, stealing login passwords for email, financial and social media accounts. The scheme was not an isolated action of a meddling franchisee; rather the national company "knowingly played a direct and vital role in its franchisees' installation and use of software on rental computers that secretly monitored consumers, including taking webcam pictures of them in their homes."
The FTC says Aaron's stored the privacy-invasive data collected by the software for its franchisees -- and transmitted messages from the software to its franchisees. In addition, Aaron's provided franchisees with instructions on how to install and use the software.
The order further bars Aaron's from using any improperly obtained information to collect debt, money or property as part of a rent-to-own transaction. The company must also delete or destroy any information it has collected improperly, and can transmit information obtained via monitoring or location tracking only if it is encrypted.
In addition, the order requires Aaron's to conduct annual monitoring and oversight of its franchisees for compliance with the terms of the agreement, act immediately to ensure compliance, and terminate any franchisee that fails to comply.
--Written by Hal M. Bundrick for MainStreet