Friday, June 3, 2011

Aaron's rent-to-own accused of watching customers

Aaron’s, the Atlanta-based rent-to-own franchise, is being sued by over confidentiality issues by a Wyoming husband and wife. The couple alleges that a computer they rented last year was used to spy on them in their home. The suit has raised issues about confidentiality and the ethics of cyber technology.

Rented computer picture

The supposed violations came to light on December 22 of last year when a manager from a Casper, Wyo., store arrived at the home of Brian Byrd, 26, and his wife Chrystal, 24, to repossess a Dell computer. The manager wrongfully believed that they hadn’t made their rent-to-own payment. The manager showed Brian Byrd a picture of him using the computer in his home from a webcam right before he gave the manager a receipt.

The lawsuit has a comment from the manager. He said he was “not supposed to disclose that Aaron’s had the photograph.”

Somebody had downloaded spyware on the computer

The suit further asserts the rented computer was loaded with spyware designed to track keystrokes, make screenshots and take webcam images.

“It feels like we were pretty much invaded, like somebody else was in our house,” says Byrd. “Crystal gets online before she gets a shower and checks her grades. Who knows? They could print that stuff off there and take it home.”

Increasingly more ‘Kill switch’ scenarios popping up

Petere Swire is an Ohio state professor that explains the “kill switch” is a legal thing to do. The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act will allow it to protect the industry. In an emergency, it would be essential to use a kill switch to turn off the machine. Swire continues. “But this action sounds like it’s stretching the self-defense exception pretty far,” he said.

Spyware designer also named in suit

Designerware LLC is situated in PA and was where the spyware used was manufactured. The lawsuit referred to Designerware in it. Aaron’s was not a consumer according to technical support Chief Tim Kelly.

Aaron’s corporation denies knowledge

There are over 1,140 company-owned Aaron’s stores and several franchised as well as the company is a nationwide corporation. Aaron’s supposedly doesn’t know of any franchises that use Designerware goods while saying the Byrds rented the computer from an independent franchise.

Cyber surveillance raises ethics problems

Right now, with computers in every household, cyber surveillance is more common. Computer tracking and video cameras are common in modern offices. Highways and public places almost always have cameras. Most cellphones are equipped with GPS components that can be used to monitor every step we take. Several question the ethics of these practices.

”We’re already concerned that Americans are tracked, followed and spied on as never before,” ACLU’s Jay Stanley said.

The comments lawmakers make

Just like the do-not-call list, the Don’t Track Me Online Act was just introduced. Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., introduced it. The legislation would make it extremely hard for corporations to trade information on users. This is the user’s choice though.



News Tribune

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