A couple from Wyoming says a national rental retailer used special software to spy on them when they rented a laptop.
Brian and Crystal Byrd, from Casper, Wyo., are suing the national rental retail chain Aaron's for violation of the Electronics Communications Privacy Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. The lawsuit alleges Aaron's installed PC Rental Agent, a software designed and distributed by a Pennsylvania company by the name of DesignerWare. The lawsuit says PC Rental Agent allows the rental company to monitor, intercept and collect any information/communications from around the world of the computer user.
The Byrds allege in their suit they leased a Dell Inspiron 14 laptop from Aaron's in July of last year. The lease said that Crystal Byrd would pay three separate installments by Nov. 15 of last year for purchase of the computer. The agreement, signed by the Byrds, did not specify that Aaron's would install the PC Rental Agent on the computer.
In December a manager at Aaron's came to the Byrd's house and claimed they were in default on their lease agreement and demanded the computer back. The employee used a photograph, taken remotely using PC Rental Agent, to prove his claim. However, Brian Byrd told Mendoza the computer was in fact paid in full and demanded to know how he obtained a photo of him.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Brian Byrd said, It feels like we were pretty much invaded, like somebody else was in our house. 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.
A law enforcement investigation confirmed the photo was taken by PC Rental Agent, and that software was on all Aaron's computers. An employee of DesignerWare told the law enforcement agent, according to the lawsuit, the PC Rental Agent permitted (and continued to permit) the Aaron's Defendants to gather, transmit and store screen shot images, keystrokes and photographs taken via the webcam without the customer's knowledge or consent.
DesginerWare did not respond to an inquiry for comment. The lawsuit claims Aaron's has been doing this practice illegally since 2007. However, the Atlanta based company denies these claims and intends to defend itself.
In a prepared statement, an Aaron's spokesperson said, The Company believes that none of its over 1,140 Company-operated stores have used the product developed or provided by PC Rental Agent or Designerware LLC, the two vendors named in the lawsuit, and neither vendor is approved or have done any business with Aaron's, Inc.
Furthermore, Aaron's went on to say, it respects customers' privacy and has not authorized any of its corporate stores to install software that can activate a customer's webcam, capture screenshots, or track keystrokes.
The couple did not disclose the amount in punitive damages it is seeking in the lawsuit. The case is similar to one in Lower Merion, Pa. this past year, where a school district was sued for taking photos of students via webcams on laptops in their homes.