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Rental computers secretly photographed people having sex, FTC says


Dirk Engling, of Chaos Computer Club, shows the control software for the Trojan spyware allegedly made by the German authorities (R) monitoring the traffic on a remote computer (L). The club cracked the spying software that could allow German authorities to peer through webcams. The news has sparked outrage among politicians and media commentators.


Odd Andersen

Are you reading this from a rental computer? Smile and put your pants back on, you're on candid camera. Seven different computer rental companies secretly took photographs of their users, BBC News reported. The companies took the photos through a software called PC Rental Agent, created by the DesignerWare company. The software captured people engaging in "intimate acts" without their knowledge, including sex.

In a complaint filed by the Federal Trade Commission, the government agency says that DesignerWare gave rent-to-own companies the ability to get TMI on their customers. Through a feature called Detective Mode, the software could secretly take photographs through the computer webcam and log computer keystrokes. It's installed in 420,000 computers worldwide, the FTC complaint says. 

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After charging seven rent-to-own firms and DesignerWare with invasion of privacy, the FTC announced today that it has agreed to settle. The settlement will ban the computer companies from using Detective Mode. 

"An agreement to rent a computer doesn't give a company license to access consumers' private emails, bank account information, and medical records, or, even worse, webcam photos of people in the privacy of their own homes," Jon Leibowitz, the FTC's chairman, said in a statement to Computer World.  

Despite the settlements, experts warn people to remain careful around rental computers. "Whenever you're using someone else's computer, whether it's borrowed or rented, you can't always know all of the software on it and what it might be doing," a computer security expert told the BBC.