Rent-to-own computers secretly recorded users having sex: FTC

By Eric W. Dolan Wednesday, September 26, 2012 19:53 EDT

An Indian immigrant college student convicted of illegally filming his gay roommate on a webcam received a big break Monday when a judge sentenced him to just 30 days behind bars, not the possible 10 years. (AFP Photo/Magan Crane)

Several rent-to-own computer companies illegal used software on their computers to secretly record their customers having sex, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

The company DesignerWare created the software — called Detective Mode — to help the companies track and recover rented computers. The software allowed the companies to capture screenshots of confidential and personal information, log computer keystrokes, and even take webcam pictures.

“When activated, Detective Mode can also cause a computer’s webcam to surreptitiously photograph not only the computer user, but also anyone else within view of the camera,” the FTC explained in their legal complaint. “In numerous instances, Detective Mode webcam activations have taken pictures of children, individuals not fully clothed, and couples engaged in sexual activities.”

The companies involved in the complaint 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.

The seven rent-to-own computer companies and DesignerWare agreed to settle the FTC complaint, which prohibits them from illegal spying on their customers and using location-tracking software without renters’ consent.

“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 Jon Leibowitz, Chairman of the FTC.  “The FTC orders today will put an end to their cyber spying.”

A spokeswoman for the FTC told Wired the agency did not have the authority to press criminal charges against the companies, though it could forward evidence of potential wrongdoings to other federal agencies.

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