Laptop rental companies reach cash-free, pointless settlement with toothless FTC for taking secret naked pictures of customers having sex, harvesting medical records and banking passwords and more

The FTC has settled with seven rent-to-own companies and a software company called DesignerWare of North East Pennsylvania for their role in secretly installing spyware on rental laptops, which was used to take "pictures of children, individuals not fully clothed, and couples engaged in sexual activities."

Under the terms of the settlement, the companies are free to go on engaging in this behavior, but now they'll have to notify customers. They won't pay a fine. The FTC won't say if it's referred any of the companies for criminal prosecution. The rental companies used the spyware to harvest renters' bank passwords, private emails to doctors, medical records, and Social Security numbers, and they used it to pop up deceptive windows on customers' computers to trick them into entering personal information.

Wired's David Kravets has more:

The software, known as Detective Mode, didn’t just secretly turn on webcams. It “can log the keystrokes of the computer user, take screen shots of the computer user’s activities on the computer, and photograph anyone within view of the computer’s webcam. Detective Mode secretly gathers this information and transmits it to DesignerWare, who then transmits it to the rent-to-own store from which the computer was rented, unbeknownst to the individual using the computer,” according to the complaint.

Under the settlement, the companies can still use tracking software on their rental computers, so long as they advise renters, the FTC said. The companies include Aspen Way Enterprises Inc.; Watershed Development Corp.; Showplace Inc., doing business as Showplace Rent-to-Own; J.A.G. Rents LLC, doing business as ColorTyme; Red Zone Inc., doing business as ColorTyme; B. Stamper Enterprises Inc., doing business as Premier Rental Purchase; and C.A.L.M. Ventures Inc., doing business as Premier Rental Purchase.

Rent-to-Own Laptops Secretly Photographed Users Having Sex, FTC Says


  1. I’m not surprised.  When I contacted them about getting multiple daily spam faxes when I was on the Do Not Call registry, I got a form letter saying that if they got enough complaints, they might maybe think about possibly doing something.

    1. Could you?  Because otherwise it just sounds like your perfectly ok with people making bad money decisions being filmed naked, having their passwords stolen, and allowing all of their personal information to end up in the hands of a corporation who no one seems willing to stand up to.
      It is bad enough when we get IRS agents ‘peeking’ at tax records, but there is nothing to stop random person working for this company from making you poster child of the week for shits and giggles.
      Stupidity should hurt and paying much more than what the machine is worth should be enough, it should not have your personal details handed over to lord knows who.

      1. Rent to own is a special level of hell reserved for people who choose to live beyond their means.
        This whole sick episode makes it all the more apparent what a special level of hell that is.

          1. Only if you delude yourself into thinking you can pay it back, when in reality you’d never be able to in a hundred thousand years at the minimum payments you can barely make……

            As we all know, it completely depends on how much you borrow, how much you can pay back at a time, your interest rate (and whether it balloons), and job security.

            And honestly, the whole credit crisis was engineered by financial “experts” who convinced millions of people into believing that they are perfectly capable of living beyond their means, using the magic of what would otherwise be called usury

        1. Be nice, and consider the position others are in. Many are just not educated and they don’t understand the real costs associated with rent to own or payday loans. They don’t realize the importance of understanding the APR or reading the fine print. Ignorant != stupid.

  2. Wow, the FTC is just great. How about protecting the fucking consumers you fucking dillwads…. argh…. the information theft alone should have garnered prison terms. 

    1. Thanks to political appointments, government agencies are rarely about the protection of the people.  They are more concerned with the needs of Industry.

  3. Rent to own places are up there with the pay day loan companies when it comes to ass-hat behavior. I’d love to live in a world wear both industries would go out of business because every citizen is better financially educated.

  4. These companies should be out of business and many of their employees should be doing jail time.

    What’s the difference from renting a computer and renting a hotel room – wired for sound and vision everywhere? Very discrete. Every room. Every toilet. Every bed and plant and picture frame – microphones in the mattress, DNA collection the morning after. 

    That pretty much killed the computer rental business. Shall we go for hotels? Restaurants? Your new car? The economy runs on trust. Illicit surveillance is economic suicide.

    (For the record, I do assume all hotel rooms and toilets have surveillance cameras. Don’t you?)

    1. What’s the difference from renting a computer and renting a hotel room

      Cops, prosecutors, judges and juries don’t understand technology and their brains shut down whenever it’s mentioned.

    2. Cameras in hotel rooms? That’s a high probability in Hong Kong’s hourly hotels… Don’t know about your average business or tourist hotel room. 

    3. I’ve seen news stories regularly about that sort of things, often in clothes-shops dressing rooms or bar bathrooms. It always, always ends in termination, fines, and often jail time.

      Apparently, doing it when you’re one guy with a sick kink = BAD. Doing it as a business model = GOOD.

      Corporations are people, my friend…and they’re better than you !

  5. The only possible rationale for the FTC letting a company do this is that they let the company off in exchange for some of the information gathered or the techniques for doing so. 

  6. Here’s a hint folks:  Close the lid when not using it.  if you’re not using the camera at all, put a bit of tape or a band-aid over the lens.

    The cleverest hacker in the world and the most devious software developed can’t open the lid or see through an opaque cover.

    With rented or borrowed stuff, presume *someone* may be watching.  I’d like to see a sliding cover made mandatory on the damn things.  Too many stupid people and too many ways to abuse this feature.  Same for any built in mike.

    And no, I am not a Luddite.  I’m a retired computer tech/science officer with, among other thing, 25 years in Intelligence.  You lot are not *nearly* paranoid enough about misuses of tech.

    1. What kind of tape do you use to stop them from downloading your files, or keylogging your passwords?

    1. Just world fallacy – *those* guys are idiots/bad people! Something like that could never happen to me because bad things don’t happen to good people.

  7. Computer security laws are generally written to protect the interests of the owner of the computer from persons who do not own the computer (crackers, erroneously called hackers), so this outcome is not surprising. Legislators did not take into account the need to protect the privacy and security interests of persons other than the owners of computers from harm from the computers’ owners. Those laws need to be amended to take these needs into account.

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