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    Update on Privacy Class-Action Lawsuit Against Aaron’s Rent to Own

    Last month, a class-action lawsuit (pdf) was filed in the Western District of Pennsylvania against rental chain Aaron’s Inc. “Crystal and Brian Byrd, of Casper, Wyo., sued Atlanta-based Aaron’s and affiliates, claiming Aaron’s ‘secretly installed a spying device’ called ‘PC Rental Agent’ on its rental computers, allowing Aaron’s ‘to surreptitiously monitor, intercept and collect plaintiffs’ electronic communications from anywhere in the world,’” reported Courthouse News. The suit claims that Aaron’s “spies on customers by equipping rent-to-own computers with secret software that remotely snaps their photos, takes screen shots, tracks keystrokes, and snoops on private communications.”

    Now, the Erie Times-News has an update on the case:

    Plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit filed in Erie charged that computer-tracking software installed on computers sold by some Aaron’s rental store franchises should be shut down immediately because it could violate the privacy of dozens of unwitting customers. A federal judge in Erie, however, has found that ordering the shutdown of the software, P.C. Rental Agent, before the lawsuit proceeds through court would be premature. […]

    [U.S. Magistrate Judge Susan Paradise Baxter] recalled testimony that indicated only 11 computers were transmitting information via the detective mode to Aaron’s franchisees at the time the lawsuit was filed. The software is meant to help the store recover stolen equipment. […]

    The ruling is a victory for DesignerWare [which sells P.C. Rental Agent], which argued in a hearing held May 25 and 26 that requiring the company to disable the detective mode of its software would damage customers’ confidence in the software and cause the company to lose business.

    The software in question performs many tasks. In detective mode, it first retrieves a user’s keystroke and screen shots every two minutes for an hour, and then e-mails that information to the rental store that leased or sold the computer.

    At the next level, it continues that kind of monitoring for as long as the store personnel want. At the third level, it snaps a webcam photo of the person as he or she signs on to prompting messages that request personal information.

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