Rent To Own Laptops May Be Watching Your Every Move: FTC

Are you someone that has decided to rent to own a laptop? If so, according to Wired, you might be one of 420,000 users in the USA who have spyware installed on those laptops that is watching everything you’re doing:

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.

Apparently the software took pictures of children, individuals not fully clothed, and couples engaged in sexual activities. How delightful. The FTC found out about this and decided to do something about it. But:

Claudia Bourne Farrell, an FTC spokeswoman, said in a telephone interview the agency does not have jurisdiction when it comes to criminal offenses. She said the agency, when it believes criminal conduct may have occurred, will forward that to the appropriate agencies. But the agency, she said, has a policy against disclosing when it has done so.

“We don’t have criminal authority. We only have civil,” she said.

The companies were not fined, she said, because “we don’t have the authority to impose civil fines for the first violation of the FTC Act.”

Thus the deal that they came up with goes like this. The software stays but they can’t use it to spy on people and they have to warn users the software is there. It should be noted that the software can also be used to disable computers and track their locations. So it’s not like this software is all bad. But it’s clearly bad enough.

Clearly, the FTC doesn’t have the balls to really smack these idiots around. Thus one hopes that criminal charges are used in this case as I can’t see how the FTC settlement would act as any sort of deterrent.

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