Rental company spies on Wyoming couple through webcam

A webcam

Jeremy Hobson: The national chain Aarons -- which rents everything from furniture to portable computers is in a bit of hot water this week. A Wyoming couple claims the company used a web cam built into a rented computer to spy on them.

From Silicon Valley Marketplace's Steve Henn reports.


Steve Henn: If you need a computer but don't have $800 handy, Aaron's offers a solution.

Aaron's commercial: Get the lowest prices on brand new, brand name computers. Do the math -- nobody beats Aaron's.

You can rent to own for less than $100 a month. But a couple in Casper, Wyo., says when a store manager came to repossess their rented computer, he surprised them with a picture he had taken of them using the computer's webcam.

If you think that's disturbing, here is the real surprise.

Fred Cate: I think it is very likely that Aaron's is within its legal rights -- especially under federal law.

Fred Cate is director of the Center for Cybersecurity Research at Indiana University.

Cate: That's a totally different question than whether what Aaron's was doing was the right thing -- which I have to say, from my perspective, it seems that what they were doing was really reprehensible.

Cate says there are no federal laws barring companies like Aaron's from shooting videos remotely with rented equipment. And if your computer is owned by your employer, there are even fewer constraints on what your boss could do.

For its part, Aaron's issued a press release that blamed the incident on an independent franchisee.

In Silicon Valley, I'm Steve Henn for Marketplace.

About the author

Steve Henn was Marketplace’s technology and innovation reporter for the entire portfolio of Marketplace programs until December 2011.

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