FTC: Software used by rent-to-own stores spied on customers

The stores used software to capture screenshots, log keystrokes and take webcam pictures, the FTC alleges

By , IDG News Service |  IT Management

Data gathered by DesignerWare and provided to rent-to-own stores using Detective Mode revealed, in some cases, user names and passwords for email accounts, social media websites, and financial institutions, the FTC alleged. The software also revealed Social Security numbers, medical records, private emails to doctors, bank and credit card statements, as well as webcam pictures of children, partially undressed individuals, and intimate activities at home, the agency alleged.

The FTC charged that DesignerWare engaged in an unfair business practice by licensing and enabling Detective Mode, gathering personal information about renters, and disclosing that information to the rent-to-own businesses. The agency also alleged that DesignerWare's use of geolocation tracking software without first obtaining permission from the computers' renters and notifying the computers' users was unfair and illegal.

The seven rent-to-own companies were charged with breaking the law by secretly collecting consumers' confidential and personal information and using it to try to collect money from them.

The proposed settlement orders will ban the software company and the rent-to-own stores from using monitoring software like Detective Mode and will ban them from using deception to gather any information from consumers. The orders also prohibit the use of geolocation tracking without consumer consent and notice, and bar the use of fake software registration screens to collect personal information from consumers.

The proposed settlements contain record-keeping requirements to allow the FTC to monitor compliance with the orders for the next 20 years.

Those named in the FTC's complaints include DesignerWare, and owners Timothy Kelly and Ronald Koller; Aspen Way Enterprises; Watershed Development; Showplace Rent-to-Own; J.A.G. Rents, a franchisee of the ColorTyme rent-to-own chain; Red Zone, also a franchisee of ColorTyme; B. Stamper Enterprises, a franchisee of Premier Rental Purchase; and C.A.L.M. Ventures, also a Premier Rental Purchase franchisee.

Grant Gross covers technology and telecom policy in the U.S. government for The IDG News Service. Follow Grant on Twitter at GrantGross. Grant's e-mail address is grant_gross@idg.com.

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