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Suit against rental co. alleges PC spied on customers

May 5, 2011 8:32:00 AM - thestate.com
You didn't pay your bill. We need our computer back. And here's a picture of you typing away on it, the computer rental company told a client as it tried to repossess the machine.

Those allegations appear in a federal lawsuit alleging that the firm, Atlanta-based Aaron's Inc., loaded computers with spyware to track renters' keystrokes, make screenshots and even take webcam images of them using the devices at home. The suit filed by a Wyoming couple Tuesday raises anew questions of how invasive custodians of technology should be in protecting their equipment.

Computer privacy experts said Aaron's, a major furniture rental chain, has the right to equip its computers with software it can use to shut off the devices remotely if customers stop paying their bills, but they must be told if they're being monitored.

"If I'm renting a computer ... then I have a right to know what the limitations are and I have a right to know if they're going to be collecting data from my computer," said Annie Anton, a professor and computer privacy expert with North Carolina State University.

But the couple who sued Aaron's said they had no clue the computer they rented last year was equipped with a device that could spy on them. Brian Byrd, 26, and his wife, Crystal, 24, said they didn't even realize that was possible until a store manager in Casper came to their home Dec. 22.

USA, South Carolina: (Latest Stories)