Rental laptops equipped with spyware that can covertly activate the webcam and take screenshots

A furniture rental chain called Aaron's Inc. is being sued for allegedly installing hardware- and software-based spyware on the laptops it rented, and using them to log keystrokes, take covert webcam photos and screenshots, and transmit them to the company's offices. The suit was brought by Brian and Crystal Byrd, whose payments for their rented laptop were allegedly pocketed by a corrupt employee; the employee's manager believed that they were in arrears on their laptop payments, so he came to their home to repossess the machine, and stressed the seriousness of his claim by showing them photos of the couple that had been covertly snapped with the machine's webcam.

The Byrds have initiated a class-action suit on behalf of other Aaron's customers who've been spied upon by their rented laptops. They emphasize their distress at the idea that photos of them and their underage children, undressed or partially clothed, might have been taken and transmitted to Aaron's without their knowledge or consent. I assume the case will also make reference to banking passwords, privileged attorney-client communications, and other confidential material that Aaron's had the potential to intercept.

That's when the Byrds contacted police, who, their attorney said, have determined the image was shot with the help of spying software, which the lawsuit contends is made by North East, Pa.-based Designerware LLC and is installed on all Aaron's rental computers. Designerware is also being sued.

"It feels like we were pretty much invaded, like somebody else was in our house," Byrd told the AP. "It's a weird feeling, I can't really describe it. I had to sit down for a minute after he showed me that picture."

Aaron's, which also manufactures furniture and bedding, said it believes that none of its more than 1,140 company-operated stores had used Designerware's product or had done any business with it.

Pa. suit: Furniture rental co. spies on PC users (via Consumerist)