I Spy With My Little Eye…

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Recently, seven computer rental companies agreed to a settlement with the federal government after they were found to be illegally capturing information from rented computers. The computer companies were working with DesignerWare, a Pennsylvania-based software maker, to create a program that controlled the computer’s webcam. An investigation by the Federal Trade Commission revealed that the software captured “webcam pictures of children, partially undressed individuals, and intimate activities at home.”

The software, called PC Rental Agent, is installed in approximately 420,000 computers worldwide and is being used by approximately 1,617 rent-to-own stores in the United States, Canada, and Australia.

The software not only captured images, it was also able to record people who were engaged in sexual activities in their homes. It was even able to take consumers’ e-mails, bank account information, and medical records. In some instances people’s Social Security numbers and doctor’s names were captured. Lisa Madigan, the Illinois attorney general, said: “There is no justification for spying on customers.”

The agreement between the companies and the FTC banned the rent-to-own companies from using monitoring software of any kind. The companies will also not be allowed to track a person’s location without knowledge or consent. The stores are prohibited from using the information captured from collecting any outstanding debts. Finally, the FTC will monitor the companies for the next twenty years.

While I think that this settlement is only a slap on the wrist of the companies, this is not my biggest concern. What I am worried about is, if the spy software is easy enough to create that computer companies can use it how tempting would it be for government/ military to use similar technology? Should a government be able to use it? If so, who would be responsible for oversight to make sure the technology is not abused? Also, what could/ should the repercussions be if the technology were used to spy on other governments? Technology like this is dangerous even in the right hands. I can only imagine what it could be used for if it were to end up in the wrong hands.

Source: The New York Times

One comment

  1. I agree with your concerns, but I believe this type of software has been around for a long time, and to my knowledge it is not being abused by the Government, but then again who really knows.

    I would like to raise another issue. These companies using this software are not allowed to track or capture information without consent. Will they just have lengthy user agreements that they provide to people who want to Rent-to-own that will allow them to capture the information? As we know people do not usually read these terms and conditions, especially, when someone needs a computer and cannot afford one and are subjected to going to these companies and have no choice but to agree to their terms.

    Hopefully, the government will just not allow this practice at all and the use of the software is not subject to “consent” because we all know how consent is given on “contracts” that are really just one party with power making a subjective party agree in order to use a product that is necessary for them to have a job or compete in this economy.

    Of course, there is no excuse for capturing pictures of children and any company capturing this should be punished with more than a slap on the wrist.

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