AMERICAN COMMERCE WATCHDOG the US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has had some stern words for seven companies that were caught spying on people who rented computers from them: "don't do that again".
The FTC said that the seven firms installed monitoring software on computers that they rented to people, and used it to capture data and track their locations.
So severe was the spying, it said, that in some cases people's keystrokes were recorded and in others, webcams were used to take photos. And all of this was done without the victims' consent.
A settlement with the software design firm that collected the data gathered up by the rent-to-own stores should stop any future spying, according to the FTC.
"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," said FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz. "The FTC orders today will put an end to their cyber spying."
Designerware is the firm that licensed the software to the rent-to-own stores, and the FTC said it reached a settlement with it and the seven firms that were renting the hardware.
The seven companies have been charged with breaking the law by secretly collecting consumers' confidential and personal information and using it to try to collect money from them, said the FTC.
Data was collected through what Designerware called "Detective Mode". The FTC said that this tricked users into handing over personal contact information, logged keystrokes, took screen captures and took photos. None of which is particularly savoury.
Data gathered included: "user names and passwords for email accounts, social media websites, and financial institutions; Social Security numbers; medical records; private emails to doctors; bank and credit card statements; and webcam pictures of children, partially undressed individuals, and intimate activities at home," according to the FTC.
The proposed settlement bans all of those involved from doing anything like that again.
The FTC named Aspen Way Enterprises, B. Stamper Enterprises, C.A.L.M. Ventures, J.A.G. Rents, Red Zone Investment Group, Showplace and Watershed Development as the computer rent-to-own firms. µ