Aaron’s rent-to-own chain settles cyberspying case

Aaron’s Inc., an Atlanta-based rent-to-own retailer with 10 local stores, has settled Federal Trade Commission charges alleging some stores used secretly installed software and webcams on rented computers to cyberspy.

Court documents filed by the trade commission say Aaron’s franchisees used the software to surreptitiously track consumers’ locations and used the computers’ webcams to capture things like adults engaged in intimate activities and login credentials for email accounts, financial or social media sites.

“Consumers have a right to rent computers free of cyberspying and to know when and how they are being tracked by a company,” said Jessica Rich, director of the the federal agency’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “By enabling their franchisees to use this invasive software, Aaron’s facilitated a violation of many consumers’ privacy.”

The complaint alleges that Aaron’s knew about the privacy-invasive features of software known as “PC Rental Agent,” but allowed its franchisees to use it. Aaron’s provided franchisees with instructions on how to install the software, then stored data and transmitted messages from the software to its franchisees. Information provided in court documents does not spell out what stores were using the software.

When contacted Tuesday, Aaron’s declined to comment on the matter. “At this time, we aren’t able to provide further detail regarding this matter,” said Aaron’s director of public relations Garet Hayes.

Aaron’s and the Federal Trade Commission have agreed on terms of a consent agreement in which Aaron’s is prohibited from using monitoring technology that captures keystrokes or screenshots, or activates the camera or microphone on a consumer’s computer, except to provide technical support requested by the consumer.

The agreement bans Aaron’s from using any information and requires that it be deleted or destroyed.