I’m sure a lot of people are familiar with Aaron’s Rent to Own, a nation-wide rental chain. They have everything from furniture to TVs. But did you know that they have spy programs installed on their computers? One couple didn’t until a store manager mistakenly attempted to repossess a computer, and showed them a picture taken with their webcam.
The couple called the police and reported the incident. It was determined that the picture was taken with spy software per-installed on the computer…which, needles to say, is highly illegal. It is legal to have a ‘kill switch’ program installed, which would shut off the computer should the renter not pay, but that still does not allow Aaron’s to remotely take pictures and monitor what a renter is doing on the machine.
A Growing Concern
This is just the latest in a line of cases concerning companies invading privacy. Just recently, it was revealed that the iPhone trackers your every move via it’s GPS apps. And it’s not only the iPhone; it’s seems that all the smartphones do this. Android phones can track you through Google’s location services if you don’t opt out of it during setup. According to one PC World report, apps like Color and ShopKick turn on the phone’s microphone and record your background noise.
Last year, there was a case brought against a school district for spying on it’s students using the web cams on their school issued computers. Their excuse was that it was for locating missing or stolen laptops. However, the fact that they took 400 pictures of a student over a two-week period doesn’t back up that claim. They have since paid out damages and have ceased their laptop locater program.
These are just a few of the recent events to make the news. A simple Google search, which is also saved so that you can be shown better ads on webpages, will pull up many more cases that you probably haven’t heard of. It’s disconcerting because these companies just seem to shrug their shoulders and say ‘oh well’.
What You Can Do
Even though all this is going on, that doesn’t mean you need to abandon all technology and live as a hermit the rest of your life. Until the companies are forced to pay out money in lawsuits or legislation is laid out, protecting your privacy falls into your hands. As J.K. Rowlings’ character Mad-Eye Moody would say, “Constant vigilance!”.
As far as Aaron’s goes, just don’t rent things from there. In fact, just don’t rent computers period. I’m sure Aaron’s is not the only rental company out there using that kind of spyware, and that this lawsuit will ‘open the flood gates’ so to speak. I’d also caution you about getting computers from pawn shops as well. You run more of a risk of getting ripped off than anything, but you can never be too sure.
The best thing you can do about your smartphone is to be careful about what apps you install on it. You also want to make sure that the location services are turned off. There are lockout apps available that shut off background programs, but don’t install the first one you come across. Research them online first. The best place to look is CNet. Personally, I’m more concerned that the data that has been stored up until now may be vulnerable to hackers. Apple and Google don’t seem all that worried about it, so I guess all we can hope for at the moment is that they have better firewalls than the Playstation Network.