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Aaron's faces spyware webcam lawsuit

8:21 PM, May 4, 2011   |    comments
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A webcam on top of a computer. (Flickr:mofetos)

ATLANTA -- With spyware, a webcam can take your picture as you work at your computer -- without you even knowing about it.

That is exactly what happened, according to a Wyoming couple renting a PC from Aaron's for home use.

The couple has filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming an Aaron's franchise store salesman showed up at their house to mistakenly repossess their rented PC. While there, the couple says the salesman showed them a picture the store had taken with their installed webcam while they worked at the computer.

But the software designer, PC Rental Agent, says it takes a lot more than a whim to activate the webcam.

In a statement to 11Alive News, the company said, "the only authorized use for the restricted webcam is for loss prevention officers and police investigating stolen PC's based on filed police reports."

The Wyoming couple claims the camera could also monitor personal communications, screen shots and keystrokes.

Aaron's says they have never done that, and calls the lawsuit meritless.

"Aaron's has not authorized any of its corporate stores to install software that can activate a customer's webcam, capture screenshots or track keystrokes," Aaron's said in a prepared statement.

Aaron's also says it's never done business with PC Rental Agent.

Tom Salata, an Atlanta attorney, says that claim from the copmany does not get the franchised Aaron's store off the hook.

"There is a reasonable expectation that the vendor is going to tell these people that if our records show that the payment for this computer is behind, your picture is going to be taken in the privacy of your own home, whether you like it or not. That is an absolute minimum to protect consumer right to privacy," Salata said.

Salata says without the notice, the retailer could possibly face a lawsuit.

The safest bet for anyone who has a rental PC and wants to ensure their privacy is very simple -- cover the webcam.

Of course, before leaving the store, ask if PC Rental Agent is installed, and read your contract carefully so there are no surprises.

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