Earlier this month, Time reported on a case concerning allegations of spying on consumers by a retailer, Aaron’s Inc. Now, Courthouse News has details about the class-action complaint (Courthouse pdf; archive pdf).
One of the nation’s largest rental chains 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, a class action claims in Federal Court. Aaron’s, the lead defendant, has more than 1,500 outlets in the United States and Canada.
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.” Also sued are Aspen Way Enterprises dba Aaron’s Sales and Leasing, an Aaron’s franchisee; John Doe 1-100 Aaron’s franchisees; and Designerware LLC.
The Byrds say: “It has been the practice and policy of the Aaron’s defendants to conceal from their customers their ability to remotely access, intercept and monitor customers’ private, personal electronic communications, information, screen shots, keystrokes or images captured on webcams and to further disclose to consumers exactly the kinds of private information and images that can be and were routinely collected, transmitted and stored.
“The Aaron’s defendants’ sales, rental or lease agreements neither seeks permission from nor discloses to RTO [rent-to-own] customers the presence of PC Rental Agent or its ability to monitor and intercept communications and other data from Aaron’s RTO computers.” […]
A police officer saw some of the process go down live, the Byrds say: “While law enforcement was conducting its investigation at the Casper (Aaron’s store … a law enforcement officer observed an unauthorized photograph of another Aaron’s customer, and was told that Aaron’s regularly received e-mails from DesignerWare with unauthorized photographs and other communications taken of customers,” according to the complaint.
The Byrds seek punitive damages for the class, for violations of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. […]
In an undated message on its home page today, “Find out more about Aaron’s and computer privacy,” Aaron’s responded to “the recent allegations regarding customer privacy and Aarons … Aaron’s customers can be assured that we’re taking this allegation very seriously. We are conducting a thorough investigation and diligently reaching out to our customers to address any of their concerns.”