Computer and furniture leasing company Aaronâ€™s took 185,000 e-mails with highly sensitive information from its customers via spyware installed on the leased machines.
The spyware application provided by DesignerWare came preinstalled on the laptops leased through Aaronâ€™s. It was designed to allow the rental company to kill the laptop remotely if customers fell beyond payment, but also was able to record keystrokes, take screenshots or use the webcam to take pictures without the userâ€™s consent. The collected information was then sent to base via e-mail.
According to The Associated Press, Aaronâ€™s received about 185,000 such e-mails containing pictures of nude children, people having sex, screenshots with Social Security numbers, social media and email passwords, and customer keystrokes.
The case raised concerns last year, when it was moved to the Federal Trade Commission, but lack of cooperation from the leasing company amplified it into a class action lawsuit.
“Because Aaron’s has been so uncooperative in agreeing to give proper notice and assistance to its customers, we’ve had to ask the court to intervene and order them to do it, so that people can protect their most private kinds of rights and property,” Maury Herman, a New Orleans attorney participating in the suit, told the Associated Press.
Most laptop recovery utilities are equipped with similar spyware applications, but are usually installed either by the computer owner, or upon the ownerâ€™s explicit request as a means of tracking down a lost or stolen laptop. In this case, the software was used to actively spy on users without their consent or even without bringing this possibility to their attention.