Hilary Niles reports a settlement between Vermont and Aaron’s, a firm that was charged by the FTC and sued civilly by customers over the use of remotely activated spyware that captured images of customers. As reported on this blog in numerous previous entries, the software enabled the franchises to locate lost or stolen laptops, but it also enabled them to track down customers who defaulted on their rental agreements, without the knowledge or consent of customers. In some cases, the spyware reportedly captured sensitive or personal images. Previous coverage on this blog is linked from here. Niles reports:
Three Vermont consumers will collect $2,000 in fines to make up for violations of their privacy by a computer leasing company. The state additionally will collect $45,000 in civil penalties and legal costs from SEI/Aaron’s.
Read more on VTDigger.
The Vermont Attorney General’s Office posted this press release about the case today:
SEI/Aaron’s, Inc., a leasing company, has agreed to enter into a consumer protection settlement that will require the payment of $45,000 to the State of Vermont and $2,000 to each of three Vermont consumers whose leased computers were remotely monitored for online activity. Attorney General Sorrell stated that the settlement “reflects my commitment to protecting the privacy rights of Vermont consumers, and to enforcing our consumer laws to achieve that goal.”
SEI/Aaron’s, based in Atlanta, is a franchise of Aaron’s, Inc., a national leasing company. It leases furniture, appliances and electronics, including laptop computers, from stores in Barre, Brattleboro, Burlington, Rutland, and St. Albans. Between late 2010 and early 2012, the company arranged to have a software program called Detective Mode remotely activated on some of the computers, to log key strokes and generate screen captures of websites visited. The main purpose of Detective Mode was to allow SEI/Aaron’s to recover laptop computers that were reported lost or stolen. However, the Attorney General alleges that SEI/Aaron’s also used Detective Mode to help collect overdue payments on laptop computers, which invaded consumers’ privacy in violation of the Vermont Consumer Protection Act.
SEI/Aaron’s agreed to pay $45,000 to the State of Vermont in civil penalties and costs, and $2,000 to each of three consumers with laptops where Detective Mode was activated but the company could not document that the activation resulted from a reported loss or theft. SEI/Aaron’s also agreed not to use, in response to delinquent payments or in connection with debt collection, any software that tracks, captures, monitors or records keystrokes, email, screen shots, websites visited, or any other activity on a leased computer.
For more information on the settlement, call the Attorney General’s Office at (802) 828-5507.