Login

How hidden spyware let PC rental companies capture photos and keystrokes of customers

Macbook keyboard macro

Back in September, the FTC admonished several PC rental companies for spying on customers through the use of utilities developed by DesignerWare. PC Rental Agent, as the software was known, allowed retailers including Aaron's to monitor customers that had fallen behind on their payments. But the invasiveness of DesignerWare's tool was extremely alarming; in addition to logging keystrokes (and thus sensitive data like social security numbers and bank account information), it also secretly recorded webcam video of people in their homes. Since then, DesignerWare has settled with the FTC and taken a hard dive into bankruptcy, but a new report from Ars Technica sheds even more light on the measures these companies pursued to observe unknowing customers.

No ordinary collections agent

It all started when an Aaron's employee visited Bryan Byrd, a delinquent customer who owed substantial rental fees; the worker pulled out a photo of Byrd using the laptop in question that had been captured with PC Rental Agent's "Detective Mode." He also produced logs of what Byrd and his wife had typed on the computer. That single event led to a privacy uproar which ultimately prompted FTC intervention.

Detective Mode contained several "levels," according to the report, with each stepping up the rate of spying activity. Level one grabbed a screenshot and 30 characters of key strokes at two-minute intervals for an hour, eventually emailing that data to a manager at the PC rental company. Level two gathered a constant stream of webcam shots and keystrokes until the process was remotely stopped. PC Rental Agent even recorded a computer's geolocation data by logging IP addresses and names of local Wi-Fi networks. The situation is a troubling tale of what deceptive companies can dig up on customers without their knowledge. As such, it's hard to argue with the fate DesignerWare ultimately met.

The Verge
X
Log In Sign Up

forgot?
Log In Sign Up

Please choose a new Verge username and password

As part of the new Verge launch, prior users will need to choose a permanent username, along with a new password.

Your username will be used to login to Verge going forward.

I already have a Vox Media account!

Verify Vox Media account

Please login to your Vox Media account. This account will be linked to your previously existing Eater account.

Please choose a new Verge username and password

As part of the new Verge launch, prior MT authors will need to choose a new username and password.

Your username will be used to login to Verge going forward.

Forgot password?

We'll email you a reset link.

If you signed up using a 3rd party account like Facebook or Twitter, please login with it instead.

Forgot password?

Try another email?

Almost done,

By becoming a registered user, you are also agreeing to our Terms and confirming that you have read our Privacy Policy.
Spinner.vc97ec6e

Authenticating

Great!

Choose an available username to complete sign up.

In order to provide our users with a better overall experience, we ask for more information from Facebook when using it to login so that we can learn more about our audience and provide you with the best possible experience. We do not store specific user data and the sharing of it is not required to login with Facebook.