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Rental Firms May Be Allowed to Spy on You

Rental Firms May Be Allowed to Spy on You

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Published by: ed_cobb_1 on Aug 11, 2011
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Rental Firms May be Allowed to Spy onCustomers With Webcams
Jason Mick
 
(Blog)
-
July 20, 2011 1:21 PM
Smile! You might be being remotely monitored viawebcam!
(Source: Ministry for the Environment)
Aaron's Inc. franchisees are free to continue tomonitor laptop leasers via remote webcam spykit --for now.
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comment(s) - last by
AssBall..
on
Jul 21
at
7:06 PM
"Error: my sensor is dirty. Please take mein a steamy area... such as your shower."
Some may recall that back in May newsbroke of an Aaron's Inc. (AAN) franchisee remotely spyingonusers with a webcam to make surethey were making payments. Theincident led to one outraged couplefiling suitagainst the company, seeking class actionstatus.Unfortunately f or that couple -- Crystal andBrian Byrd -- there case was dealt a serioussetback by Judge Sean Mclaughlin, a judgewith theUS District Court for the WesternDistrict of Pennsylvania (Erie District).In hisruling[Google Docs], thejudge refused to grant a preliminary injunction,which would have banned Aaron's and itsfranchisees from both continuing to monitorusers with the "PC Rental Agent" remotewebcam spykit and from conducting activitiesto obfuscate which computers had the spykitinstalled.In denying the injunction, Judge Mclaughlinopens the door to continued monitoring of users, and to the company disguising howmany users it monitors.The court rules that that the plaintiffs don'thave the computer any more and thus areno longer suffering harm and that theyprovided insufficient evidence todemonstrate that other members of thepotential class are currently suffering harm.Basically the dilemma the Byrd family'slawyers face in arguing their case is that nocurrent employees are willing to whistle blowon their employer and discuss remotemonitoring. Furthermore, the court isdismissing a former employee who
did 
testifyagainst the franchisee as non-credible in somuch as they aren't a present employee("...given by Ms. Hittinger, and no otherinformation about the current practices of Ms. Hittinger's particular franchisee locationwere elicited. In fact, Ms. Hittinger no longerworks at an Aaron's...").The court seems content to take the Aaron's franchisee at its word about how manycomputers its monitoring, while dismissing the plaintiff's claims as speculative, writing:
In fact, according to the testimony of Timothy Kelly, co-owner of DesignerWare, Inc., on May 3, 2011, only eleven computers were transmitting information via Detective Mode to Aaron‘s franchisees. ECF No. 43, page 190. This is contrasted to the testimony that ―roughly 80 to 100 computers every month get reported stolen from Aaron‘s franchises.Id. The Court was given no evidence or information regarding the computers that were sotransmitting and no information about the laptop users – that is, whether they are thelessees or others in possession of the laptops.
The problem is that while the franchisee is "cooperating" with the investigation, there is a
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very real possibility that it can obfuscate its current surveillance from investigators. As thecourt seems content only to consider taking action if additional evidence can be gathered, andwill only consider current employees as dependable witnesses, the Byrd family's trialprospects aren't looking too good.About the only think working on their side at this point is that the courtruled in favor of theplaintiffs in a similar caseagainst the Lower Merion School District of Pennsylvania whoinstalled webcam remote capture software on its student's 2,300 loaner laptops.However, that case had the advantage of having all the laptops be government property, andall the software installation practices being carefully chronicled in local government documentsfrom the school system. This case is far different as it deals with a
 private
entity, who likelywon't be foolish enough to share documentation on the extent of its monitoring or share itslaptop collection with investigators.And there's still the outstanding question of whether webcam monitoring really violates theWiretap Actand theComputer Fraud and Abuse Act, which prevent the unauthorized interception of electronic communications. In this case, the communication is not"intercepted" per se; it's initiated by the remote party.Thus while most in the public would understandably be repulsed and outraged at a companytaking pictures of a family in a private setting, remote monitoring is a gray area of the law,particularly when the company owns the device in question.Law enforcement and courts have shown willingness to side against lone parties, such as aformerApple, Inc. (AAPL) technician whoinstalled remote monitoring software on Macsto take explicit photos of female clients. However, whether courts will side against corporationsengaging in somewhat similar behavior, particularly when it lacks the overt sexual overtonesremains to be seen. After all the corporations have the advantage of having money andgreater privacy capabilities on their side.Aaron's claims it doesn't monitor users remotely as a national practice. But at this point it maybe a moot point -- companies are one victory closer to watching their customers remotely.Customers may complain -- but until additional legislation is passed, they may have littleexplicit legal recourse.
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I don't get it
By
AssBall
on 7/20/2011 1:26:07 PM ,
Rating:
5
Who rents a laptop? What a waste of money. 
RE: I don't get it
 
By
SiliconJon
on 7/20/11,
Rating:
0
 
RE: I don't get it
By
SiliconJon
on 7/20/2011 1:40:40 PM ,
Rating:
1
(those who rent and are not crackheads are more than welcome to the lesser half of that very rude, if not obscenely insulting qualification)Parent 
RE: I don't get it
By
umop apisdn
on 7/20/2011 1:39:35 PM ,
Rating:
2
People who like to live beyond their means and coincidently have terrible credit. That'swho.Parent 
RE: I don't get it
By
therealnickdanger
on 7/21/2011 12:18:42 PM ,
Rating:
2
Work for a week at McDonald's and you can afford a laptop.Parent 
RE: I don't get it
By
cjohnson2136
on 7/20/2011 2:03:29 PM ,
Rating:
2
I can sort of understand someone renting a laptop...I think it's stupid don't get me wrong.My question would be what does Aaron's do with all that data that is probably left on thecomputer when it is returned?Parent 
RE: I don't get it
By
quiksilvr
on 7/20/2011 2:59:37 PM ,
Rating:
2July 20, 2011, 10:32 AM
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Usually you are supposed to delete it from the system.Parent 
RE: I don't get it
By
cjohnson2136
on 7/20/2011 4:34:39 PM ,
Rating:
2
Yeah but what about all the cookies and cache data that your typical user wouldnot think about...Parent 
RE: I don't get it
By
SSDMaster
on 7/20/2011 6:25:10 PM ,
Rating:
2
Delete the profile folder.Parent 
RE: I don't get it
By
NicodemusMM
on 7/20/2011 6:53:36 PM ,
Rating:
4
TL;DR - They simply re-image it so the data is still accessible by the tech-savvy.---------I've serviced in-warranty PC's for the local Aaron's locations. Typically when they get aPC back they simply re-image the machine with Aaron's provided software. Most otheir customer base wouldn't know how to retrieve the old data, but a simple undeleteapp like Active@ UNDELETE would work. The tech at one of the locations stated thatthere is no scrubbing prior to re-imaging, though that could vary from site to site. Idoubt they would go that far as it's a time consuming process and they're moreinterested in getting it back on the shelves.~ NicodemusParent 
RE: I don't get it
 
By
NicodemusMM
on 7/20/11,
Rating:
0
 
RE: I don't get it
By
AssBall
on 7/21/2011 7:06:46 PM ,
Rating:
2
DT's archaic and vague posting rules... Gotta love it.Parent 
RE: I don't get it
By
nafhan
on 7/20/2011 2:23:26 PM ,
Rating:
2
The only legit reason I can think of is if a PC is needed for only a very short period of time.Anyway, I checked out computer rental (mostly out of curiosity) about 10 years ago, andwas appalled by the high prices and outdated hardware. At that point, prices were agood bit higher than getting a monthly payment plan from Dell, etc.Parent 
RE: I don't get it
By
Shadowmaster625
on 7/20/2011 2:54:29 PM ,
Rating:
2
I checked out computer rentals about 3 years ago. They had an athlon X2 system forlike $40 a week. It was worth about $400 at the time. That fits my best estimates that10 weeks of rental = the same price as purchasing outright. (Give or take a couplpeweeks.) Yes its an obvious scam, like payday loans.Parent 
RE: I don't get it
By
DanNeely
on 7/20/2011 3:37:10 PM ,
Rating:
2
A very bad deal for most customers isn't the same thing as a scam. If you've gotany other sort of credit you'd be insane to use a payday loan/rent to owncompany; but some people either because they totally trashed their credit score orwho due to working under the table don't have any credit history at all can't getany normal credit at all.Parent 
RE: I don't get it
By
Solandri
on 7/20/2011 4:07:54 PM ,
Rating:
5
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