The FTC recently announced that seven rent-to-own companies and a software design house have agreed to settle charges that they used computers rented from them to spy on consumers.

"According to the settlement, software company DesignerWare sold an application for sellers of rent-to-own PCs that would enable them to brick computers that were stolen or if the user stopped making rental payments," writes The Register's Iain Thomson. "It also included a feature called 'Detective Mode' which would log keystrokes, allow remote use of a webcam, or record the geographical location of systems."

"In some cases, webcam activations captured images of children, individuals not fully clothed, and people engaged in sexual activities, the complaint alleged," writes Ars Technica's Dan Goodin. "Rental agreements never disclosed the information that was collected, FTC lawyers said."


"The program also used a fake registration screen that tricked consumers into providing their personal contact information, the FTC alleged," writes The Hill's Brendan Sasso. "The rental companies are Aspen Way Enterprises, Watershed Development Corp., Showplace Rent-to-Own, ColorTyme, Premier Rental Purchase and Premier Rental Purchase."

"The proposed settlement orders will ban the software company and the rent-to-own stores from using monitoring software like Detective Mode and will ban them from using deception to gather any information from consumers," writes Computerworld's Grant Gross. "The orders also prohibit the use of geolocation tracking without consumer consent and notice, and bar the use of fake software registration screens to collect personal information from consumers."

"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," FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz said in a statement.