Aaron's Inc., a national rent-to-own retailer, settled Federal Trade Commission charges that it 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 consumers in their homes.

The settlement bars Aaron’s from deceptively gathering information about consumers, and from using improperly obtained information to collect debt, money or property as part of a rent-to-own transaction. The company must delete or destroy any information it has collected improperly and can transmit information obtained via monitoring or location tracking only if it is encrypted.

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 settlement also requires Aaron’s to conduct annual monitoring and oversight of its franchisees for compliance with the agreement, act immediately to ensure compliance and terminate any franchisee that does not comply.

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.

Finally, Aaron’s is prohibited from installing or activating such technology on rental computers that does not clearly notify consumers of its presence immediately before each use, including via a prominent icon on the computer.

The complaint alleged that Aaron’s knew about the privacy-invasive features of the software, but still allowed its franchisees to access and use the software, known as PC Rental Agent. The software was the subject of related FTC actions in early 2013 against the software manufacturer and several rent-to-own stores, including Aaron’s franchisees, that used it.

It included a feature called Detective Mode, which, along with monitoring keystrokes, capturing screenshots and activating the computer’s webcam, also presented deceptive “software registration” screens designed to get computer users to provide personal information.

Subscribe Now

Access to authoritative analysis and perspective and our data-driven report series.

14-Day Free Trial

No credit card required. Complete access to articles, breaking news and industry data.