Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Peeping Aaron

And You Were Worried About Big Brother.  The national rental chain Aaron's is being sued for spying on its' customers  by using software installed on their rent-to-own computers without their knowledge.  The software, PC Rental Agent, is installed on the computers as a way to track the store's property and to act as a "kill switch" in case a person doesn't pay, but according to at least one Wyoming couple, it's also been used to secretly activate their laptop's webcam and even log keystrokes.  The couple,  Brian and Crystal Byrd, discovered this when an Aaron's manager came pounding on their door to repossess their Dell Inspiron with a photo of Brian using the computer taken with the built in webcam as "proof" that he'd been using it.  As it turns out, the Byrds had already paid for the laptop, a month early, in fact, but Aaron's goofed when they recorded the transaction.  Even if they had missed a payment, though, can a company just peek in on you whenever they want?   As a computer technician, I've seen this software at work.  It does just what it says- if you miss a scheduled payment, your computer is locked down, and the only way to access it is to call Aaron's and get a special (and very lengthy) code, not once, but twice.  I've also seen a lot of spyware.  That's 99% of my business.  From a privacy standpoint, I'd say "alarming" is a mild word.  Naturally, the Byrds were worried that someone from Aaron's had taken webcam pictures of Crystal or their daughter as they were coming out of the shower, or getting dressed.  It's not the kind of thing a person wants to find on YouTube.  What if Aaron's staff had taken pictures, then saved them to a flash drive and taken them home with them?  First, they called the police, who confirmed the computer has spyware installed on it, then they called a lawyer.  Now I know what you might be saying.  "Really, Mr. Johnson, you're such an alarmist!  This was one case!  And besides, doesn't Aaron's have a right to protect their property until the renter pays in full?"  Sure.  But that doesn't mean that my landlord can install a camera in my shower to make sure we aren't tearing the house apart.  I think people have a right to protect their investment, but I also think people who rent from Aaron's have a right to know that their privacy is being invaded.  And what else could be compromised?  Sony Entertainment can't protect your information, Apple is tracking your whereabouts, and Aaron's is watching you while you sleep...or worse!  People have their identities stolen everyday and their bank accounts drained...a rogue application takes over your computer and holds it for ransom until you pay $49.95 for a bogus antivirus program.  All of this goes on while you post on Facebook that you're not home, not even in town,, or that you just dropped the kids off at soccer practice.  In today's digital world, I'm worrying less and less about big brother...Aaron's and the like are creepy enough.
Read about it here:
I stole the picture from


Anonymous said...

wow ! that is something i didn't know!!

A. Christensen Johnson said...

That's just the way Aaron's wanted it.