Beware of Big Brother: 'Rental' computers discovered tracking users' locations, passwords and private lives

Wednesday, December 26, 2012 by: Ethan A. Huff, staff writer
Tags: rental computers, spying, Big Brother

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(NaturalNews) Privacy is an illusion with many of today's computers and tech devices, which are fully capable of secretly tracking your every move and relaying this information to third parties or even the government without your knowledge or permission. This was the subject of a recent lawsuit and federal investigation, which uncovered a massive spying ring involving computer rental companies that install secret software on their computers to hijack users' webcams; capture screenshots of users' online activities; and even log users' every keystroke for the purpose of stealing passwords and private information.

According to Ars Technica, a Wyoming couple back in 2011 filed a class-action lawsuit against the nationwide rent-to-own company Aaron's Inc. after learning that the chain had installed a software product known as PC Rental Agent on a computer they had leased. According to the suit, which was filed in the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, Aaron's had been installing the software on all of its rental computers since at least 2007 to "surreptitiously access, monitor, intercept, and/or transmit electronic communications" made by customers.

Developed by a company known as Pennsylvania-based DesignerWare, PC Rental Agent was allegedly developed for the explicit purpose of merely keeping track of rental computers and locking out customers who failed to pay their bills. But what customers were not being told was that PC Rental Agent also gives Aaron's secret access to the leased computers, essentially turning them into untraceable spying machines capable of accessing all sorts of private information and computer activity and sending it back to the company.

"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," explained Brian Byrd to the Associated Press about how the spying software installed on his computer by Aaron's could essentially capture nude images of his children. "I've got a five-year-old boy who runs around all day and sometimes he gets out of the tub running around for 20 or 30 seconds while we're on the computer. What if they took a picture of that? I wouldn't want that kind of garbage floating around out there."

Is your computer, tablet or mobile phone spying on you?

According to the lawsuit, which was eventually settled by DesignerWare and seven rent-to-own companies, more than 420,000 individuals besides the Byrds who rented computers from Aaron's were also being spied on with the secret software. And none of them were made aware of the fact that the software had been installed on their machines prior to renting them, let alone that it was capable of actively monitoring customers' activities both on and offline.

"In numerous instances, data gather by Detective Mode has revealed private, confidential, and personal details about the computer user," explained officials from the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in a civil complaint filed earlier this year. "For example, keystroke logs have displayed usernames and passwords for access to email accounts, social media websites, and financial institutions."

What is even more disturbing is the fact that a nondescript rent-to-own business is capable of such high-tech intrusion without detection, which begs the question as to whether or not major corporations that produce computers, mobile phones, and tablet devices, not to mention state and federal governments that are far more sophisticated, might be using these devices to spy on us daily. Are those little webcam "eyes" on the front faces of most devices today, for instance, secretly monitoring your activity? What about the hidden microphones on mobile phones and laptop computers?

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