I Can See You In Your Home

UPDATE: 9/25/12

Seven rent-to-own companies and a software design firm have agreed to settle Federal Trade Commission charges that they spied on consumers using computers that consumers rented from them, capturing screenshots of confidential and personal information, logging their computer keystrokes, and in some cases taking webcam pictures of people in their homes, all without notice to, or consent from, the consumers.

The Federal Trade Commission said the seven companies involved had worked with DesignerWare, a Pennsylvania-based software maker, to create a program that secretly captured “webcam pictures of children, partially undressed individuals, and intimate activities at home.” This included people who while engaging in sexual activities in their homes were being recorded on their rental computers. New York Times

The FTC Tuesday also announced settlements with the seven rent-to-own businesses named in its complaints: Aspen Way Enterprises, B. Stamper Enterprises (a franchisee of Premier Rental Purchase), C.A.L.M. Ventures (a franchisee of Premier Rental Purchase), J.A.G. Rents (a franchisee of ColorTyme), Red Zone (a franchisee of ColorTyme), Showplace (a.k.a. Showplace Rent-to-Own), and Watershed Development (a franchisee of Aaron’s), as well as a settlement with DesignerWare and its principals, Timothy Kelly and Ronald P. Koller.

The related FTC complaint also lists Pennsylvania-based software development company DesignerWare, which sells PC Rental Agent software for recovering rented PCs, which includes a “detective mode” for spying on customers. As of August 2011, the software had been used by about 1,617 rent-to-own stores in the United States, Canada, and Australia, and installed on 420,000 computers

Original article was first posted on 5/24/2011.

Just when you thought things couldn’t get any creepier, a lawsuit brings to light that “rent-to-own” stores are using laptop and desktop webcams to spy on their customers.

The ABA Journal reported that Brian Byrd, 26 and his wife Chrystal, 24, are sueing Aarons, Inc. They are alleging Aaron’s installed software that could monitor key strokes, capture desktop images, and worst of all use the included WebCam to view and snap pictures. The young couple had no idea they were being spied on and probably never would have known, if the store manager hadn’t mistakenly tried to repossess the computer. During a discussion with Brian, the store manager produced a picture of Brian Byrd that was taken by the computers webcam.

Using a software kill switch is pretty much standard practice for stores renting this type of equipment. It gives the store a needed degree of protection. But in this case things seem to have gone to far and entered into the realm of creepy. The software used on this computer was made by the Pennsylvania based, Designerware LLC. It is installed and used on all of the computers rented from their 1,500 stores through out the United States. It’s unsure how things will shake out in court but there is an issue with using the Internet to access an individuals computer without authorization.

Here’s a quote given the Associated Press that sums it up Byrd’s feelings. “It feels like we were pretty much invaded, like somebody else was in our house. It’s a weird feeling, I can’t really describe it. I had to sit down for a minute after he showed me that picture.” Byrd also said, “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 with them.”
He added: “I’ve got a 5-year-old boy who runs around all day and sometimes he gets out of the tub running around for 20, 30 seconds while we’re on the computer. What if they took a picture of that?”

The thought of grimy store owners or employees sitting in a back room watching and recording customers was until now beyond even my imagination.

Are you kidding me. My daughter and grandchildren can be viewed by who ever walks in off the street looking for a job in a rent to own store.

This is so creepy that it makes me shiver.

I had just adjusted to the fact that I’m being constantly digitized while scratching, picking and doing everything humans do during the course of a day. The thought of getting on an airplane and submitting to the rude probing pat down and the embarrising scans that are now being used has me looking for train schedules.

I’m aware that in todays world once I walk outside my door, I’m on display. I’m being snapped and filmed at every intersection, store, and sidewalk. I might as well be Lady GaGa or Britney Spears exiting a car. This is too much. I should absolutely be able to sit in my own home, secure in the fact that I can’t be invaded. The almighty dollar is not worth this much loss of freedom. If it’s too risky to rent computers without terrorizing the renters then stop renting.

We’ll have to watch this one to see to see the final results. If the Byrds don’t win this, then we’re all in deep dung. If this goes unchallenged I can imagine cameras filming us from within our cars. Appliance manufactures making sure they know our whereabouts until the dishwasher or refrigerator is paid off. It’s not that big a leap, in fact it’s not a leap at all.

Please let me hear your thought on this. I think it’s important to speak out to help preserve our privacy and freedom.


ABA Journal


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80 thoughts on “I Can See You In Your Home”

  1. I recently noticed the camera on my laptop (purchased at office depot over a year ago) sounding as if it were taking a picture every now and then. I've been wondering if a spy-like software could get past my security program. Who would want to spy on ME anyway?

  2. don't rent a computer..you can buy a good used one for less money some new ones can be bought for around 200 dollars….i will sell you mine for a million dollars if you are dumb enough to buy it for that..it cost 400 new 8 years ago..i took it out of the box…next you will be renting food..i don't own or rent a Mercedes…i cant afford one I only have things I can afford….

  3. Okay people this is not funny – next it will be our microwaves and washing machines! Maybe child abuse and any other kind of abuse would be stopped, robbers would be caught quicker! Keep your kitchen and laundry clean the world maybe watching. Wonder what else we don't know about?

  4. Oh, come on… you can't make this stuff up. I can clearly see the judges ruling in favor of the company, somewhere along the lines of "their stuff, their decision about what to do with it".

    1. @Geoff:
      A piece of black electrical tape over the camera hold and he mics. I’m not sure how well the sound would be blocked, but it would be badly muffled.

  5. Thsi alll makes me very glad that I not only own my computer but that I assembled it from individual parts as well. It also heaviily discourages the idea of ever activating a web-cam.

  6. A remote kill switch in cases of non-payment, I can understand, and that is justified. If customers don't pay, they don't play. However, logging keystrokes, grabbing screen caps, and worst of all, using the webcam to capture who knows what images…I hope Aarons and all other companies who have done this are fined so heavily they never even consider doing it again. Designware LLC, in addition, should be prosecuted being a party to all of this.

    1. I don't think Designware LLC should have to answer for this as this software was probable that it was made for company use where employees know of the software and it is used for remote monitoring for legitimate reasons. The Designware LLC was prob unaware it was been used for this purpose.

  7. its all apart of the new world order. governments are controlling us in every way possible. they watch us. they control us through subliminal advertising, music, movies. everything. there's nothing about our countries that are 'free'. Just you wait.

    1. @Chloe Primmer: WTF does the “Government” have to do with a private software company developing this software, and rental companies installing it on their rental machines? Seriously, the Governments have nothing to do with 1/10th of the shit you folks try to pin on them. They’re NOT in cahoots with everyone to spy on everyone…really.

  8. Smiling Carcass

    Could a micro camera be put into an LCD or LED screen? Would a TV enginneer spot it? HMMM. I don’t necessarily believe it is happening, but could it?

  9. “The almighty dollar”?! Please! Quit being so big-headed. The world is more than America.

    More on-topic: It’s all big-brother, baby. All the world leaders’ groups are slowly but surely comeing together as one, technology is advancing to biotech and they will all merge together to control you with a chip in your arse. Or your head…

    Enjoy if you will!

  10. I was’nt half way the first line of this article that I rip the little lens of the casing no more cam on this laptop and I did not forget to stick a nail in the mike hole I you like it now…

  11. USA Today covered this fairly thoroughly: http://tinyurl.com/3b6q6wq

    A short while ago a Website asked if I would turn on my Webcam and Mic for some sort of interactive session. I split, then taped over my Sony notebook’s built-in camera lens and microphone.

  12. BIGGGGGGGGGGGGGGG Brudder is watching .. ohhhhhhhhhhh brudder! .. I think this is a serious and inexcusable totally unacceptable invasion of privacy but the method used should not surprise anyone with our so-called advanced technology .. for many many years now, other methods to spy have been utilised – wire taps on phones, bugs planted in various places in private residences, very tiny holes drilled in residence walls to secret very tiny but very effective video cameras, … . Get used to it – it is not going to stop no matter what the outcome decision for the Byrd’s .. just remember24/7 that you REALLY are on Candid Camera and behave accordingly .. the upside is you may be discovered and made into a movie star .. lol ..

  13. This is getting good ! FrereOP you’re almost right, except that you have forgotten one tiny little detail, as Linux is easier to hack through than Windows, if you have a system on your hard drive, if you have one, then a good hacker can make that system do anything he might want it to do the next time it’s booted. believe me, I know, it’s been done to me! I had 25 out of 1,000 pages
    of rubbish printed out before I could stop
    the printer! And that was just a smoke screen !!

  14. Steve from Indy

    Hey “Joe the tech”, right on. Do ya think this suit will fail? LOL (subject #2>) If anyone finds this to be a working idea (you won’t) get smart..take it to your grandmother rest home. That should cure the jerks. Otherwise, Format the disk and say OOPS. You are new at this. OR…switch this computer with your store manager’s wife’s and then get a job there to see they reactions FREE.

  15. Another reason to go to MSCONFIG and turn off all the extra junk on your PC. If blocked from that then attach a small sign saying something, maybe not polite, or a pic of a gesture not so polite infront of the camera so it is all it can view. Hint, boot from a Linux cd and alter the lock out. You can download a free copy and burn one so far as I know.

  16. you can set the websites that adobe uses
    in the settings manager
    at the adobe web site
    hope this helps someone

    1. Darling John, have problems getting along with others, do you? There was no reason to be hateful and abusive. Try a little tenderness.

  17. It’s time we had some real, simple, common sense type rules regarding technology. If I own the machine, NO ONE can put anything on it, or take anything off of it without clear, specific permission. If I rent it, it can in no way invade my privacy any more than another person could – in other words, planting a camera or audio device in my house would be a criminal offense.

  18. I say boycott them. I really feel sorry for the ones that put their computers in their bedrooms. There is no telling how many abused their spying software. This sort of thing is not tolerable I don’t care who it is.

  19. I don’t know why they don’t just use a GPS devise. It wouldn’t invade ones privacy, but would allow the renter to track where the product is, in case they default. Using video and audio doesn’t tell them who’s home the equipment is in. Its completely sick, and uncalled for! Surprised the government isn’t doing it, but they probably will be soon (if they aren’t already). Don’t we have rights as humans to some privacy? What if they kept thier pc in the bedroom, or college dormroom. I imaging they are seeing better than “G” rated stuff going on. It should be illegal!!!

  20. Think about this. It means that, one day, someone who has come up with a new definition of “perverted” said to him (or her) self, “I know; I’ll write software that secretely spies on billions of people in their own homes.” Then he (or she) sold the idea to a commercial concern—who then took the studied collective decision to incorporate it in their product.

    That’s so beyond sick its “ick”!

    Hunt’em down!

  21. Nicholas Bodley

    Good grief! Cap your lens, or put tape over it. Nevertheless, this is a serious invasion of privacy.

    Seems to me that when you rent the computer, you should back up all the HD content and install Linux (or one of the BSDs). From then on, use that OS. When ready to return the computer, reinstall what you backed up.

    (For fun, when your monitor is showing what your webcam sees, aim the webcam at the monitor.)

  22. I PRAY the Byrds win this lawsuit. I have a lap top and an All-in-One complete with webcams and wonder what on earth they have already seen in my house. That is a total invasion of privacy and I think I am going to pay Aarons a visit tomorrow.

    What is the softwares file name so I can get rid of it? GOOD LUCK BYRDS!!

  23. Robert Guimond

    Well now THAT’s a new High in Low 😛
    Figures, a cheezy outfit like RTO to come up with a way to spy on the people they’ve been robbing.

  24. Please, People, look at the congress. We’ve got that woman in charge from CA (Pelosi) who is one of the biggest socialists this country has ever elected to office. Considering CA sent her to congress – and keeps returning her to Washington to do more damage to our liberties. We are all in danger from those people who feel that none of us can think for ourselves and that they should do our thinking for us “for our own good.”

    1. You’r rights where initialy lessened by right wing Republicans in the guise of ” protecting you from terrorists” not the Democratic party . You should learn the differance between Fascist and Socialist before you show you’r ignorance.

  25. why use a rent to own computer? renting costs more than buying because you do not end up with anything for the money. just buy a computer. they’re cheap enough.
    i do hope they dont get away with such an invasion of privacy and i wo9uld be furious if that was done to me.

    1. Smiling Carcass

      What’s to stop an unscrupulous trader selling you a computer infected with the same software? This is scary and needs investigating thoroughly by politicians and law enforcement. I cannot see how the Byrds can lose. It cannot be right, even if some loophole or sympathetic judge makes it legal.

  26. read “1984”, by George Orwell!

    BTW Thank the Patriot Act for taking your rights away.

    How much longer are you going to take it dry, up the @$$?

  27. They just passed the Patroit Act, what is next. They will probably use that to get out of this. Our world as we used to know is gone.

  28. Oh dear Robin …oh dear me .your scientist friend never let you in on the joke, we would pull pranks on others just like that. but never actually did that one,
    I am and have worked in electronics for 40+ years from valve era to transistor to ic and then to icl chip tv/pc/rx/tx ect ect in industry research ,gov ect ,in later years my primary work was trouble shooting and problem solving circuits on the high edge of video and camera data streaming in to and from computer systems, so I am yet to know how a crt or a lcd/plasma can be a camera even today 2011. I am afraid that unless for 40 years i have been repairing tvs and monitors (vdu) that were in fact all cameras , then WOW not one camera ever has failed for me or any of my associates, so Robin i can not understand how your lcd(transistor diode) or plasma(gas) or that crt (Valve)emitting a deflected electron flow hitting the front screen energised from eht at 20 to 27kv, scanning and lacing and delacing inside a glass evacuated bottle could also be doing the reverse and scanning and sending your picture out down the same pins at the neck!!,is there a hidden back porch signal or sub harmonic signal i don’t know about ( back to the scope i guess and test equipment)
    A whole extra set of events come in to play,and you DO need a camera, NOT a tv monitor to collect your image IT WILL NOT WORK, but some sort of iris ccd lens or whatever WILL, sorry the level of technology or builds did not exist in NORMAL equipment on the street in the 90s( unless a specially built prototype was designed)which i would assume a small pin hole camera that had been disguised in the monitor frame as an extra with your friend, possibly with a deflection to make it look central to those viewing it, i would have liked to have seen this actually happen back then, because we did discuss in the IBM r&d labs in the 70s when computers we had were the size 6 foot doors we were working on, even as late as the 90s no available company equipment to the retail trade was used as far as our contacts and r&d have found , in the lab it is more than possible to build hidden cameras in to equipment of all sorts, even your toaster, the small tablets being released are the first step that way,as for speakers recording you,that been around for decades,I did that in the early 70s with an old valve gramaphone player for a trick on my mates at a party, but monitors i would say at this time maybe in only covert equipment, at very high prices beyond street sales for now,
    But very soon it will happen, as to who can control it, well thats up to the user, piece of cloth is the best,or off switch, or build the pc yourself.
    but its nice to know a company is not going to sell 1000s of spy type james bond $10,000 laptop or pc monitors for just $600 just to spy on their customers.
    this is all about installed software not about hardware, the software is here and has been for a long time, its cheap. as for the rest for now, its hype when a rumour is not a rumour no one believes its, when it is a rumour everyone believes it.

    1. Alas, kind person…

      Thou hast been trolled, rolled and stripper-poled.

      That utterly inane comment you so kindly responded to was just some snarky person’s way to bait responses and see whom s/he could fool into believing there really was someone that stupid.

      OTOH, perhaps *I* was the one trolled here!

  29. I am not sure but if it is still being paid for would that count as the property of the company or the person renting it? Depending on how the laws are in the area it might be legal. I did not think it is right though. There have been programs like this for a long time actually and it was pretty much going to happen sooner or later. I am supprised the government has not incorperated this in operating systems but so far I am thinking positive.

  30. That’s why you should never trust a computer you don’t have full control over. Best way is to run Linux (which is fully Open Source) and boot from a Linux distro (like Ubuntu or Fedora) installed on an external USB hard drive.

    Nothing is left on the host computer when you are finished, and you run the software you want, not subversive rootkits or spyware installed by someone else.

  31. Its amazing how little most people know about software. Uninstall the programs you dont want on your computer. Its that simple. If its some kind of administrator block on it simply flash the bios and reload the operating system. There is no super terminator computer at work here, Its just crappy dells on sublet.

  32. Wow. I couldn’t believe it when I found out the displays in grocery stores were watching you to track your buying habits-but this is going too far.

  33. Yeah, someone was done last year or the year before,over here,U.K.,for spying on a child, in her bedroom, by hacking in through the wi-fi, and activating the webcam and mic ! ! it,s disgusting. We don’t have a webcam or mic’s connected but when I buy my next laptop, They’re coming out, as is the wi-fi!
    Wires are safer ! By the way, What Planet is Robin from ?

  34. Richard L Walker

    I remember when businesses read their employees e-mails (firing quite a few who spoke poorly of the business) and judges said “The businesses owned the hardware. What they did was legal.” America kept silent. Do you see a shocking similarity here? Guess who owns the equipment. Sooner or later cowards … uh, Americans … are going to have to wake up and take charge or there will be no country left as we remember it. The Patriot Act? Why worry if you have nothing to hide? How about our constitutional rights have been destroyed. Wake up. Not much time left.

  35. Well. Well. Well. It seems the you people have finally caught up. This has been a realistic scenario for years and people like me have had to put up accusations of conspiracy-theorist and silver hat wearers.

    Whos laughing now huh? Get your head out of your ass you people and start wising up…because I promise you, this is just the tip of the iceberg.

  36. Just wondering if the manufactures of webcams and laptops with built in webcams have some kind of software installed to do the same. Or if someone could hack your PC and access your webcam. Makes you wonder who is watching you…

    1. Smiling Carcass

      The safe way is to assume everybody is watching you all the time. And middle finger ’em! (as I do with my nosy neighbours- on the theory if they’re watching, they get the finger, if they ain’t nobody knows I’ve done it!)

  37. Robin, Why don’t you please share this URL with us that you said enabled you to see your own image on the screen when you accessed it?

  38. The first thing you should do whenever you get a computer, be it retail, mail order, used, or R-T-O is to install an all-inclusive anti-virus/firewall prior to connecting to the web. Dont trust whats on there. If you have the software disks the best course is to completely format and reinstall the OS and any applicable programs. I’ve owned many computers and the first thing I do is wipe and reinstall everything. You never know what they might have on there. As far as Aaron’s liability…..if its stipulated in the rental agreement that they can do that then unless that provision is found to be illegal theres no real recourse. If they didn’t specifically outline that they could keylog, remotely access the system and webcam, etc.. then they committed a crime. If this is SOP for Aarons then this is the making of a class action lawsuit.

  39. Lol Robin. Somebody told you wrong. But brings up an interesting rumor that certain spy equipment can detect what you are looking at on your PC by only detecting the patterns of light coming from a monitor. Say the light was glowing onto your drapes. They (MIB…lol) can see whats on your computer screen. Wouldnt you think it would be easier to just tap into the network and sniff your IP? Probably.

  40. I have a Webcam that has a Lans Cover that I use when I’m not useing the Webcam. Maybe everyone should have a Webcam with a Lans Cover or cover it with something.

  41. Most webcams now have an LED that lights up whenever the camera is operating. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was maybe some way to keep that light from illuminating, but I’m not sure how easily a third-party software company could do that.

  42. Whether the Byrds win or lose there is a wide open market for you Pitstop – get cracking and be first.
    If they can do it, you can kill it.

  43. Another good reason to not use the “rent-to-own” stores. This is just another “predatory practice” by those SOB’s.

  44. Robin is an idiot, a liar, or a hoaxster. (Or perhaps just extremely gullable.)

    Although analog speakers can also be used as a microphone, a video display CRT or flat panel is a one-directional transmitter of light, not a receiver.

    Some folks will believe just about anything…

  45. @ Robin. Sorry, but that’s incorrect. Unless your monitor has a camera built in, your monitor cannot capture images. If you have your camera blocked, you’ve done enough.

  46. In the mid 1990s, a friend at work (scientist) gave me a URL for a page at HOTBOT. I entered the URL and low-and-behold, I was looking at myself on my own computer screen.

    Yes, your monitor is also a camera.

    Yesterday, I was reminded of the same thing when talking to a computer tech about my laptop when he saw that I have a small piece of duct tape over my webcam.

    For me, the webcam tape is only a small placebo, I just can’t tape the entire monitor. However, I have thought about using a beamsplitter so I can have some privacy! Need to get another techie involved for that one.

    No doubt there are other ways to get around it…maybe putting the monitor in front of the TV on a vacant channel, so those watching us will at least be entertained.

    1. There is no physical way that a monitor doubles as a camera. Read what cookie has to say about it, and know that CRT (Cathode Ray Tube) and LCD (Liquid Crystal Display) monitors do not have a way to receive images. Cookie did a fine job of explaining this. It sounds to me that your scientist friend may have been playing a practical joke on you. I would suggest that you Google how CRT’s and LCD’s work to get a better understanding of the technology. All the best to you!

  47. wow- I’d feel invaded too! I guess that little round spot in the middle of my laptop is where i’ll stick my gum from now on!

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