Rent-to-own, if you’re unfamiliar with the concept, is pretty simple. You give far too much money to a company in exchange for goods worth nowhere near what you end up paying for them. Like any model designed to sell poor people stuff, it’s mostly designed around the belief that the poor are a) desperate and b) stupid. If that sounds like the kind of enterprise only a company with an incredible lack of ethics would be involved in, boy, do we have the least surprising news ever for you.
Namely, that said companies were so unethical that they loaded their rent-to-own PCs with spyware that monitored what the computer was being used for, and in some cases could be used to turn on webcams. Yeah, you get one guess what the managers of some rent-to-own companies immediately started trying to do.
According to the federal lawsuit, some companies basically hacked the computers of their own customers:
A feature known as Detective Mode also allowed licensees to surreptitiously monitor the activities of computer users. Managers of rent-to-own stores could use the feature to turn on webcams so anyone in front of the machine would secretly be recorded. Managers could also use the software to log keystrokes and take screen captures.
Yep: Facebook logins, bank passwords, email passwords… the mid-level manager of a store in a strip-mall could collect all of this if he happened to feel like it, essentially by flipping a switch. Needless to say, the customer was not informed that some creepy dude was going to flip on their webcam for giggles.
Somehow, this is not illegal. If you or I, a private citizen, did this, we would be facing jail time under federal computer crime laws. These large companies are essentially facing a civil judgement that will cost them some money, but nobody is going to jail. So remember kids, if you want to hack your girlfriend’s Facebook or spy on the hot chick next door, start a company to do it.
By the way, in case you were wondering? Yes, that sign is real.