Is There A Stranger In Your House Spying On Your Every Move?

This one sounds kind of scary, but it’s really not, unless you didn’t know that your personal computer has this capability.  It got scarier for me, though, because there are now websites inviting you to join the class action lawsuit.  “How Does It Feel To Have A Stranger In Your House Spying On Your Every Move From A Hidden Camera On Your Computer?” screams the attorney’s website.  “If you have an Aaron’s, Inc. Computer, contact us now for a free case evaluation…”

What, a hidden camera in computers rented from Aaron Rents?  Well, it seems that a Wyoming couple is suing Aaron’s, Inc. for spying on them.  Brian and Crystal Byrd, of Casper, WY, claim the company showed up at their door with a webcam image of Bryan sitting at the computer.  We don’t know what Bryan was doing other than sitting, but we can only hope for the best.  They were at the Byrd’s doorstep to repossess the computer which had, in fact, been paid off early.  It was mistakenly considered to be in default by the local Aaron’s, their first mistake.  The second one was showing them an unauthorized webcam image.

Well, first of all, the camera is not “hidden” in the computers.  Clearly every customer would know that the camera is there and can capture your image.  At least they should.  The real scary part comes with the knowledge that if they can take your picture without you knowing it, they have the ability to remotely access the computer.  Which means they can intercept and monitor everything you’re doing on that rented computer.  Things like screen shots of your bank statements.  Websites you’ve visited.  Keystrokes.  Images you’ve captured on webcams.  Think they could listen in on your video calls?  Sure.  The Byrd’s allege that Aaron, Inc. did this on a routine basis, collecting data and storing it on their servers. 

Did they do that?  I think not.  What purpose would it serve to show up at a repossession visit with a picture they took of you using the computer?  To prove you had it?  Or to prove you were stupid enough to spy on them?  It makes no sense.  Aaron, Inc., officially denies that this spy software was used by the company or put on its rental computers or used by its independently owned stores.  But how do you explain the alleged unauthorized webcam image?  You have to assume the software was at least installed on the Byrd’s computer by the local Aaron’s Rents store.  The lawsuit alleges that this was confirmed by law enforcement.  The BIG question is why?

And why would you think it stops there?  Do you think “Big Brother” can watch you?  (By the way, the technology has existed for years that allows your television to receive as well as transmit.)  If you don’t know much about the operation of a computer and it’s connectivity to the World Wide Web, then he probably is watching you, just like Aaron’s.  Minimally there should be firewall protection on your computer that prevents this type of invasion.  Your home network should be secured and password protected from unauthorized use as well.  If you don’t know what this is, find out and right now.

Do you know the amount of information that is obtained from you when you visit most websites?  Websites place cookies on your computer, a small text file with a unique ID tag, matching with an ID tag on the website server.  It stores information, like the pages you visit and how long you viewed those pages, and your IP address, and even your location, city and state.  Information you gave the site, and information they “captured” when you signed in.  

I have a website.  I can get daily stats reports.  Even this blog tracks who is reading the stories and where they are coming from.  Do you think I can remotely take your picture?  No.  But I can tell I don’t have enough readers, and you know that over 1,800 readers have “hit” the site just by looking at the counter on the page.  I know which stories they’ve hit, how they got here to read them, but I don’t know if they read them, and I don’t know if any of them are spreading the word about how great these daily doses of interesting stuff are.

I’m not a tech-weenie, but I can promise you I wouldn’t buy or rent anything that I didn’t thoroughly check out and understand how to use.  I have to believe it should have been obvious to Bryan when the picture was snapped, with my understanding how the process works.  Maybe he thought he did it?  Maybe he did and it was stored on the hard drive which Aaron’s could access.  Technically, they’re alleging that Aaron’s could have turned on the webcam and watched the house, well anything happening in front of the camera.  I don’t think they could control it remotely, at least not without making a sound.

And one of the Wyoming law firms that is representing “Brian Byrd and Crystal Byrd, et. al., v.  Aaron’s Inc, et al. (That et al. is an abbreviation in latin which means “and others” in case you didn’t know that.)  is none other than the famous law firm of Jerry Spence.  They see the money and that’s about it.  This isn’t really about protecting the public against violation of federal privacy and technology laws, but it should be.



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