Aarons Inc., a national, Atlanta-based rent-to-own retailer, agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that it knowingly played a direct and vital role in its franchisees installation and use of software on rental computers that secretly monitored consumers including by taking webcam pictures of them in their homes.
Aarons franchisees used the software, which surreptitiously tracked consumers locations, captured images through the computers webcams and activated keyloggers that captured users login credentials for email accounts and financial and social media sites, according to the FTCs complaint.
Consumers have a right to rent computers free of cyberspying and to know when and how they are being tracked by a company, said Jessica Rich, director of the FTCs Bureau of Consumer Protection. By enabling their franchisees to use this invasive software, Aarons facilitated a violation of many consumers privacy.
The complaint alleges that Aarons knew about the privacy-invasive features of the software, but nonetheless allowed its franchisees to access and use the software, known as PC Rental Agent. Aarons also stored data collected by the software for its franchisees and also transmitted messages from the software to its franchisees. Finally, Aarons provided franchisees with instructions on how to install and use the software.
The software was the subject of related FTC actions earlier this year against the software manufacturer and several rent-to-own stores, including Aarons franchisees, that used it. It included a feature called Detective Mode, which, along with monitoring keystrokes, capturing screenshots and activating the computers webcam, also presented deceptive software registration screens designed to get computer users to provide personal information.
Under the terms of the proposed settlement with the FTC, Aarons will be prohibited from using monitoring technology that captures keystrokes or screenshots, or activates the camera or microphone on a consumers computer, except to provide technical support requested by the consumer.
Aarons also must give clear notice and obtain express consent from consumers at the time of rental in order to install technology that allows location tracking of a rented product. For computer rentals, the company will have to give notice to consumers not only when it initially rents the product, but also at the time the tracking technology is activated, unless the product has been reported by the consumer as lost or stolen. The settlement also prohibits Aarons from deceptively gathering consumer information.
The agreement also will prevent Aarons from using any information it obtained through improper means in connection with the collection of any debt, money or property as part of a rent-to-own transaction. The company must delete or destroy any information it has improperly collected and transmit in an encrypted format any location or tracking data it collects properly.
Under the agreement, Aarons must conduct annual monitoring and oversight of its franchisees and hold them to the requirements in the agreement that apply to Aarons and its corporate stores, and to terminate the franchise agreements of franchises that do not meet those requirements.