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Aaron Computer Rental Firm Spies On Users

timothy posted more than 3 years ago | from the they-learned-it-from-school-in-pennsylvania dept.

Privacy 510

An anonymous reader writes with word from Yahoo news of a lawsuit "filed on behalf of a Wyoming couple who said they learned about the PC Rental Agent 'device and/or software' inside the computer they rented last year when an Aaron's Inc. store manager in Casper came to their home on Dec. 22. The manager tried to repossess the computer because he mistakenly believed the couple hadn't finished paying for it, the couple said. Brian Byrd, 26, said the manager showed him a picture of Byrd using the computer — taken by the computer's webcam. The image was shot with the help of spying software, which the lawsuit contends is made by North East, Pa.-based Designerware LLC and is installed on all Aaron's rental computers."

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Whoops (5, Informative)

bfmorgan (839462) | more than 3 years ago | (#36019650)

These stupid companies think they can treat their customers like children and in the process shoot themselves in the foot.

Re:Whoops (5, Insightful)

MoonBuggy (611105) | more than 3 years ago | (#36019680)

These stupid companies think they can treat their customers like children and very occasionally they don't get away with it.

FTFY.

Re:Whoops (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36019846)

Only cause it's a small company. Not tied to the police state.

Re:Whoops (2)

tripleevenfall (1990004) | more than 3 years ago | (#36019884)

Well, I'm guessing people who get computers at Aarons, (or Rent-A-Center, etc.) aren't the most likely to notice spyware either.

Re:Whoops (2, Insightful)

PhreakOfTime (588141) | more than 3 years ago | (#36019780)

Well, in this case they are right. This guy has the math skills of a child. If he's lucky. Have you ever worked out the costs of that? Some of the rental ones around here end up being over 4X the price of outright buying it, over just 15 months of payments.

He shouldn't be allowed to sign a contract that involves math in any way whatsoever.

Re:Whoops (5, Insightful)

dragonturtle69 (1002892) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020012)

Or maybe it just proves, further, that the poor get screwed.

If you have $1,000, you can buy that laptop you didn't plan for, and so didn't save for, but would be really useful now that you are starting higher education. On the other hand, if your income dictates a 12 month period of saving to get that $1,000, chances are that your window of opportunity for schooling has closed before you have the hardware.

Enter the rent-to-own industry, giving you long term low monthly payments, with what amounts to incredible interest rates. The payday advance places are the same. If you make good money, you'll never fell their sting. If you make really good money, you'll never pay interest period, just handling fees.

And now they have, if the story is true, real spyware. What type of dirtbag, including the school "officials" reported a few months back using the webcams on student laptops, spies on someone in this manner?

Re:Whoops (2)

PCM2 (4486) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020060)

If you have $1,000, you can buy that laptop you didn't plan for, and so didn't save for, but would be really useful now that you are starting higher education. On the other hand, if your income dictates a 12 month period of saving to get that $1,000, chances are that your window of opportunity for schooling has closed before you have the hardware.

So what you're saying is, maybe all those people who tell you that you should never, ever buy anything on credit (because credit is evil and you should always buy everything with cash), should get a crash course on something called "opportunity cost"? It's not as if it's hard for a student to get a credit card.

Re:Whoops (0, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36020134)

Or maybe it just proves, further, that the poor get screwed.

Interesting that you immediately blame anyone other than the idiot who entered into an agreement they clearly couldn't afford. Why not blame those asshats in the world who refuse to live within their means for their actions? As long as there's a sucker willing to shovel their livelihood into the greedy mouths of opportunists there will be a business model ready and waiting for them.

I'm certainly not defending asshole companies but you can't always blame the big bad evil company for the issues of poor people who make poor decisions (no pun intended). Read contracts and accept the terms or don't. Those who blindly accept terms have plenty of responsibility in screwing themselves.

Re:Whoops (5, Informative)

avgjoe62 (558860) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020180)

Funny. If you read TFA, you'll see that the couple in question had paid off the computer and now owned it outright. The store manager was mistakenly trying to repossess the computer and that revealed the spyware to them. So, obviously, they could afford the contract. Nothing clear about it.

The point of the article is not poor people make bad decision, get computer repossessed. It was about a company still having spyware on a computer that was owned by their former customers.

Re:Whoops (1)

Beelzebud (1361137) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020254)

Speaking of reading, you probably should have RTFA... Interesting that you immediately blame the customer, who had paid for the PC in full. Not to mention the spyware (literally) they had on the machine.

Re:Whoops (5, Insightful)

Xtravar (725372) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020238)

I put tape over my work laptop's webcam. A little paranoid... perhaps... but it makes me feel better.

Re:Whoops (3, Insightful)

d6 (1944790) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020334)

That has been my habit ever since cams started showing up in every single screen/laptop I buy.
Nothing wrong with covering a cam you are not going to use and plenty right about it if your shit gets rooted.

Re:Whoops (1)

Kral_Blbec (1201285) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020292)

And you need a 1000 dollar laptop for college? Funny, I did just fine with my 300 netbook.

Re:Whoops (1)

Darinbob (1142669) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020340)

You need a laptop for college, any cost? They're no longer considered luxury devices for self absorbed managers?

Re:Whoops (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36020348)

And other people do just fine with a pair of $5 thumb drives (or a free gmail account and files they email to themselves) using the computer at the library.

In either case, there are engineering, computer science, graphic design, and similar students who would benefit substantially from a little more horsepower and/or screen real estate than is available on a netbook. But I'm pretty sure that we've drifted off-topic, as all those trees were apparently blocking your view of the forest.

Re:Whoops (1)

Osgeld (1900440) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020386)

I did just fine with a 486 screwed to a chunk of plywood

Re:Whoops (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36019908)

And they make shitload of money [google.com]

First! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36019658)

OMG FIRST!

Re:First! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36020016)

You are quite possibly the largest failure at attempting to create intelligent life that has ever been witnessed on slashdot. Congratulations for being such a loser and making everyone else feel better about themselves.

Re:First! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36020056)

Don't be so hard on the boy. An honest assessment of his value to humanity is likely to damage his poor little psyche.

Re:First! (1)

WrongSizeGlass (838941) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020068)

OMG FIRST!

I realize you wanted to be first but couldn't afford it. We'd be happy to rent you a comparable posting position for an outrageous interest rate and some undisclosed tracking software.

Re:First! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36020118)

lol

Whose consent is needed? (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36019670)

The interesting legal argument to be made is whose consent is needed in order to have violated any "unauthorized access" laws like the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act. Aaron's owns the computer, so do they own the data on it by default like an employee on a work computer? Or is it wiretapping without a warrant into communication they weren't party to (between the user and their bank/email/etc)?

you can't consent to child porn (4, Interesting)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 3 years ago | (#36019772)

you can't consent to child porn and you can't sign away your rights or have stuff in the fine print saying we can read your CC or SS or bank account numbers from the system.

"Crystal gets online before she gets a shower and checks her grades," Brian Bird said. "Who knows? They could print that stuff off there and take it home with them."

He added: "I've got a 5-year-old boy who runs around all day and sometimes he gets out of the tub running around for 20, 30 seconds while we're on the computer. What if they took a picture of that? I wouldn't want that kind of garbage floating around out there."

Re:you can't consent to child porn (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36019850)

you can't sign away your rights or have stuff in the fine print saying we can read your CC or SS or bank account numbers from the system.

Says who?

Re:you can't consent to child porn (2)

Travelsonic (870859) | more than 3 years ago | (#36019868)

Says the cases where contracts have been rendered entirely or partially illegal/unenforcable due to such attempts.

Re:you can't consent to child porn (1)

Ethanol-fueled (1125189) | more than 3 years ago | (#36019872)

You are totally drinking the scaremongering, overbearing Kool-aid if you think a kid jumping out of the bathtub running around is child pornography instead of lighthearted comedy. You are either twisted or parroting the beliefs of twisted people.

By your logic, just about everybody is in possession of child pornography for owning baby pictures of themselves and/or their kids. By your logic, the intro to the Simpsons movie is child porn. By your logic, almost all of the Calvin and Hobbes books are child porn.

Get a grip, man. Save the irrational guilt and shame for the religious people!

Re:you can't consent to child porn (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36019920)

If they are religious, they are not people anymore.

Re:you can't consent to child porn (5, Informative)

johncandale (1430587) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020026)

http://www.solresearch.org/~SOLR/rprt/LookNow.asp#Sct_1_NakedKidPics [solresearch.org] There have been many dozen cases of people taking pics of their baby kids in a bathtub or otherwise half dressed and successfully convicted. I pulled that link in about 10 seconds of google but I'm sure /. and others have better links. Please please read the news once and awhile so you know why people are upset about privacy going bye bye and the myth of "if you have nothing to hide..." Even if you won on appeal, you still have years of your life with the added stress of a young child ruined.

Re:you can't consent to child porn (2)

yakatz (1176317) | more than 3 years ago | (#36019938)

you can't consent to child porn and you can't sign away your rights or have stuff in the fine print saying we can read your CC or SS or bank account numbers from the system.

I am not really sure what child exploitation has to do with it. Since when are pictures of naked children called child porn? That is a 2/10 on the original COPINE Scale [wikipedia.org] , and it does not appear at all on the SAP scale at all (note, I am not talking about posed pictures).

Now that we are past that, who said you can't have "stuff in the fine print" saying anything? Last time I checked, if you sign a contract, you have agreed to whatever it says, which includes the fine print whether you read it or not and even if you think that it does not make sense. You have the right not to sign anything that you feel will be detrimental to you.
Another point: I am sure plenty of people who agree with your comment have used public computers, lets say in the library, to check their email or their bank or some other password protected service. When you use that computer, do you have a right that there can't be something on that computer to steal your information? Why should this be any different?

Re:you can't consent to child porn (1)

johncandale (1430587) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020034)

http://www.solresearch.org/~SOLR/rprt/LookNow.asp#Sct_1_NakedKidPics [solresearch.org] [solresearch.org] There have been many dozen cases of people taking pics of their baby kids in a bathtub or otherwise half dressed and successfully convicted. I pulled that link in about 10 seconds of google but I'm sure /. and others have better links. Please please read the news once and awhile so you know why people are upset about privacy going bye bye and the myth of "if you have nothing to hide..." Even if you won on appeal, you still have years of your life with the added stress of a young child ruined.

Re:you can't consent to child porn (1)

yakatz (1176317) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020382)

http://www.solresearch.org/~SOLR/rprt/LookNow.asp#Sct_1_NakedKidPics [solresearch.org] [solresearch.org] There have been many dozen cases of people taking pics of their baby kids in a bathtub or otherwise half dressed and successfully convicted.

I have seen all of those stories before, but let's start with the first one:
- Accusation: Yes
- Investigation: Yes
- Annoyance: Certainly
- Conviction: No

The second link on that site is a story I have not seen before, but that is probably because it is a 404.
The third link: one convicted and overturned, one convicted which was obviously wrong (with no further sources available).
In the fourth case listed there:

Angeli was never charged with child pornography, but she was charged with disorderly conduct, malicious destruction of property under $250, and assault and battery with a dangerous weapon. source [rcn.com]

Summary: No convictions.

a apartment contract can't have stuff in the contr (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020038)

a apartment contract can't have stuff in the contract like we have the right to have camera in the apartment or that you can't have your own satellite dish.

Re:a apartment contract can't have stuff in the co (1)

yakatz (1176317) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020240)

a apartment contract can't have stuff in the contract like we have the right to have camera in the apartment or that you can't have your own satellite dish.

Source? Why not?

Re:a apartment contract can't have stuff in the co (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36020380)

IANAL, but

Generally, you can't be legally bound by terms in a contract that would otherwise be illegal. You can't, for example, sell yourself into slavery. For one, slavery is illegal. You can't sign away your legal rights. For another, without a fixed term, it would probably violate minimum wage and a host of other labour laws. A contract to work for less than minimum wage is invalid regardless of whether or not I knew what I was doing when I signed it.

On another tact, generally, contracts are invalid if the terms are unconscionable. This is deliberately vague to allow judges and juries to use their judgment, but I am sure a paralegal could dig up tons of case law showing what is legal and what is not.

P.S. a renter of property, while not the owner of the property, is in legal possession of it, and thus has most of the same rights in regard to the property as an owner-user would. The renter's rights prevail as long as there is no adverse affect on the owner. Thus, the owner of the computer has no rights to the data on the rented computer. The owner's rights only come into play if the computer were deliberately damaged or not returned at the end of the lease or some such. Likewise, your landlord has no more right to come into your house than he has to walk into a random strangers house except those rights granted to him by the law of the appropriate jurisdiction (usually, just enough to protect his investment).

Re:Whose consent is needed? (5, Insightful)

Penguinshit (591885) | more than 3 years ago | (#36019776)

even when Ma Bell owned the telephones and only leased them to private homes they still needed a warrant to eavesdrop on calls. In the case of corporate resources, those are provided with the expectation that anything done with them is work product (which the company owns).

Re:Whose consent is needed? (1)

telekon (185072) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020360)

Work-for-hire. Work product (generally) refers to information produced by legal representation in the process of working on a given case, and as such cannot be subpoenaed in relation to said case. Splitting hairs, I know, but it's a significant distinction.

Work product is also based (generally) on federal legal precedent, whereas work-for-hire is based on positive laws which vary from state to state.

Re:Whose consent is needed? (1)

adolf (21054) | more than 3 years ago | (#36019806)

Or is it a simple invasion of privacy, since they're using their equipment to take pictures of people (or anything else) inside of their own home, (presumably) without consent?

In terms of property rights, AFAIK, even landlords have to provide some notice before entering property they've rented out without permission.

Re:Whose consent is needed? (0)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 3 years ago | (#36019956)

OT: love that sig. Been a long time. Never heard it referenced before.

Re:Whose consent is needed? (0)

adolf (21054) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020032)

There's always room for a reference to the Ultra-Heavy Beat.

Re:Whose consent is needed? (3, Insightful)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#36019822)

Given that this specific case involved a computer that had been paid off(and, unless demonstrated otherwise, strongly suggests that they don't remove their bugs upon transfer of ownership generally...) I suspect that they would likely be up shit creek under such laws in this circumstance.

More generally, I'd imagine that it depends how much the judicial/jury opinion falls under the sway of soothing babble about "legitimate digital asset management practices..." and how much it falls under the "Yeah, this is pretty much like I was renting an apartment, so my landlord decided he could install a camera in my shower" analogy.

Precedent could allow them quite substantial leeway if this case gets linked to the "the Company owns and watches everything you do while in the building" body of case law; but if it falls in with the body of precedent concerning rented dwellings and other things with long and emotively engaging histories, they could have Serious Issues.

If, of course, anybody finds a cache of kiddie porn being generated by the sorts of bored sleazeballs who would work for a rent-to-own company using the spyware, heads will probably roll.

Re:Whose consent is needed? (1)

sjames (1099) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020216)

Actually, since Byrd DID finish paying for it, the computer didn't belong to Aaron anymore.

Even if it was still Aaron's, that doesn't allow them to invade people's privacy in their own home.

Creepers (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36019684)

Those webcam spying software installers creep me out!

Shocking (5, Insightful)

hinesbrad (1923872) | more than 3 years ago | (#36019688)

Wow. A company that built a fortune based on scummy financial deals is being discovered for scummy conduct on computers it sells. Shocking.

from TFA: owning it outright vs OS (0, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36019720)

> made financial sense to make a final $900 payment to own the computer outright. That was in October.

So yet again the same lesson: _never_ trust a computer on which you have not installed the OS yourself, and kept 100% secure from malware.

It just boggles my mind seeing people use these computers from big box stores loaded up with crapware, without having the first idea what all that shit does. Why would you use a computer like that? It's idiotic. This case is an even worse example: you trusted the OS that was there, which came complete with spyware.

Re:from TFA: owning it outright vs OS (2)

metalmaster (1005171) | more than 3 years ago | (#36019768)

The percentage of people who install a vanilla OS themselves is quite small. Most consumers will rely on the preinstalled software given to them by the PC manufacturer. If something goes wrong, the mildly intelligent ones will put load the same exact software from a replacement DVD. The ones who arent as smart will take their PC to a repair shop where the tech will load the DVD for them.

Its all about things that "just work"

Re:from TFA: owning it outright vs OS (1)

TheLink (130905) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020306)

Most people will also rely on the preinstalled software and hardware in the car they bought/rented/leased from the car dealer.

Re:from TFA: owning it outright vs OS (3, Insightful)

Local ID10T (790134) | more than 3 years ago | (#36019948)

So yet again the same lesson: _never_ trust a computer on which you have not installed the OS yourself, and kept 100% secure from malware.

It just boggles my mind seeing people use these computers from big box stores loaded up with crapware, without having the first idea what all that shit does. Why would you use a computer like that? It's idiotic. This case is an even worse example: you trusted the OS that was there, which came complete with spyware.

You are a computer geek. It is obvious to YOU, not so obvious to the general public (aka Joe Sixpack).

Do you use a (modern) car? How about a cellphone? Do you know what all of it's components do? Do you know what data is being recorded about your daily habits? Do you know who has access to that data? Or do you just trust the engineers who designed it and the technician who maintains it for you?

Most people make a compromise between functionality and control. We don't know how to make or do everything, so we trust others to do it for us. Sometimes they fuck us. Sometimes we don't like getting fucked by anyone besides Ms Wallace... so we call in a couple of hard hitting attorneys and get medieval on their asses. (yes, that's a bad Pulp Fiction reference...)

Re:from TFA: owning it outright vs OS (1)

artor3 (1344997) | more than 3 years ago | (#36019984)

A lot of companies no longer provide install discs for the OS. You either need to buy a second copy, or borrow from a friend, (or pirate the discs and use your legit product key). Doing a clean install isn't possible for many people as a result. Really, I suspect that this is one of the reasons people view Macs as "just working". They don't come loaded down with crap.

Re:from TFA: owning it outright vs OS (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#36019990)

You'd better handle the firmware, as well. While something like AMT [wikipedia.org] or the assorted server management cards is (currently) unlikely to show up in a mass-market shitbox, being reserved as a Serious Corporate price discrimination feature, it does serve as a fairly adequate tech demo for what a hardware rootkit would look like.

Little embedded application processor, active whenever the computer has access to power(whether 'on' or not), integrates with the NIC, video chipset, and peripheral controllers to provide full KVM access regardless of the state of the host OS, along with other utility features, silently(from the point of view of the host OS, somebody watching the wire can of course see it) piggybacks on the host's network connection. Even handles setting up a VPN connection to a remote host for monitoring the target if they wander offsite... Your own OS won't save you from this one. Even if you pull the drive, they can observe the BIOS whining about its missing boot device precisely as easily as you can. Pulling the RAM might stop video(since intel IGPs don't have their own to work with); but even then hardware status information, GUIDs, and serial-over-LAN remain alive. Game over man. Game over.(and we haven't even begun to explore what you'll be able to do once EFI and hardware virtualization support allow you to basically shoehorn an entire second OS into the firmware, permanently under the primary one. That'll be fun.)

Because it is a(slightly oversold) feature, rather than a bug, it isn't truly designed for stealth; but some rather minor modifications would make it quite tricky for anybody who doesn't monitor there network traffic pretty seriously, from an independent host(luckily the merry world of cellular broadband and somebody else's wireless hotspot makes that easy, isn't it?) to detect it.

Again, on purely economic grounds, buyers of low end units are, for the moment, saved by the fact that spy hardware costs money that would pare away at the already razor-thin margins of that sector; but hardware seems to be getting cheaper and behavioral information seems to still be valuable. Enjoy the future, brought to you by whoever is currently renting ad space in your framebuffer...

Re:from TFA: owning it outright vs OS (1)

avgjoe62 (558860) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020310)

Come on, admit it. You work for the NSA [nsa.gov] and you're actually watching me type this right now. You're just playing with us, saying that someday someone will make "...some rather minor modifications" and be able to do exactly what you're doing right now. BTW, I don't feel like getting up to check - can you tell me if the coffee's ready?

Re:from TFA: owning it outright vs OS (1)

Chaos Incarnate (772793) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020338)

That's feasible for a hardwired machine, but just how many modern home computers are connected to a LAN, rather than via wireless? Especially if you remove Slashdot users from the population?

On the motherboard? (5, Funny)

Jonah Hex (651948) | more than 3 years ago | (#36019738)

PC Rental Agent includes components soldered into the computer's motherboard or otherwise physically attached to the PC's electronics, the lawsuit said. It therefore cannot be uninstalled and can only be deactivated using a wand, the suit said.

Seriously, they had to go with a hardware/software solution, when they could have very easily done it in software only? And what does that do to the warranty from the original manufacturer, soldering new parts into your motherboard usually voids those.

Also, given the demographic of people who "Rent to Own", I'd hate to see some of those webcam shots...

HEX

hardware may just be a key / on / off switch / tri (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 3 years ago | (#36019838)

hardware may just be a key / on / off switch switch / trigger switch or just a usb board hidden inside. Some laptop boards have usb ports on the in side or headers / plugs for usb ports. Some systems have unused bluetooth cables / plugs that can be used for this.

seems to be software only
http://www.pcrentalagent.com/eSiteWay/Home.aspx?tabindex=5&tabid=510 [pcrentalagent.com]

Re:On the motherboard? (3, Interesting)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020064)

Unless there are additional details not disclosed on their kinda sleazy looking; but unabashed [pcrentalagent.com] website, the hardware component seems like it is either a mistake(perhaps referring to some sort of anti-theft tag?) or an additional feature specific to this major chain.

If you look at the company's pricing information, it only quotes software licensing fees and prices for additional/replacement/updated install media. No mention of hardware components, much less the sort of model-specific inventory mess that any deep integration would require. Obviously, the information available on the seller's site for that offering doesn't preclude a custom offering for a large customer, with more robust features; but it also isn't as though lying about the existence of super-tough hardware security in order to reduce the risk that your clueless customer tries to have their nephew who "knows computers" install a cracked copy of XP on a "bricked" machine would be a terribly unlikely strategy...

Re:On the motherboard? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36020086)

They probably spent a fair amount of money implementing that solution, which can be foiled by a 1/2"x1/2" square of electrical tape placed firmly over the webcam lens.

Re:On the motherboard? (1)

Kral_Blbec (1201285) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020344)

I only have a 1/2"x3/8" piece. Will it still work?

Re:On the motherboard? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36020186)

It is software only, however to prevent people from reinstalling windows and bypassing it, it locks out the built in restore function. It wasn't until last year they made a user F3 restore function. Before that it was the dark ages of coming to work Wednesday to ten broken computers because the windows updates broke something and they can't do an automatic startup repair.

Rent a computer? (4, Insightful)

PhreakOfTime (588141) | more than 3 years ago | (#36019744)

There was an ad around here not too long ago about something similar. While I was listening to it, they obviously mentioned the 'monthly price' and the length of the term. Before the commercial was over I had done the math in my head, and the laptop ended up costing almost 4X the amount it would have otherwise cost.

I imagine this is probably similar. Anyone who signs such a deal should immediately be enrolled in a math class that will sufficiently explain amortization costs in such a situation. They should then be able to pass an exam that proves they are aware of what the real cost is, in a single number, over the rental term.

There is a reason the phrase 'A fool and his money are soon parted' exists, I suppose.

Re:Rent a computer? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36019786)

Blue Hippo probably. Not coincidentally, they're out of business now and a federal agency is "renting" their old building space in a Baltimore suburb. I'm sure part of the rent is offset by the free room and board we are paying for him...

Re:Rent a computer? (3, Informative)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 3 years ago | (#36019898)

The people who take this deal don't qualify for better credit. If you ban rent-to-own or limit the interest rates, though, their choices actually get worse, not better. After all, the moment that it leaves the front door of the store, this laptop is a used piece of equipment owned by someone who can't swing several hundred dollars in spare cash (i.e., probably not the most fastidious owner). Shitty credit deals are all they're going to get, because nobody is going to loan them $1000 at 5% interest - the default risk is too high.

Re:Rent a computer? (1)

PhreakOfTime (588141) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020014)

their choices actually get worse, not better.

I would consider saving the money before buying it to be better, not worse. The cost is already ~$200/mo, with a few other cuts, they could easily get a laptop free and clear, FOR THEIR NEEDS, within 60 days of saving.

A laptop isnt exactly an emergency cost. In the story, it is described as being for the wife's new classes. She didn't just wake up one day with no warning whatsoever that classes were starting in 2 hours.

Re:Rent a computer? (4, Insightful)

demonlapin (527802) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020140)

You would, but you probably have savings accounts, home access to the Internet, a credit card, a stable address, nobody trying to steal your pocket money for drugs/booze/etc, and a lot more intelligence than these people. If you ban check cashing places, people go to pawn shops; if you ban pawn shops, they go to loan sharks. Rent-to-own is part of the same continuum, in which people who are bad credit risks are able to obtain things they want (but can't afford in lump sum, and won't save up enough to purchase) quickly and easily in return for paying a high cost (that covers the enormous risk of default).

Even when I made the equivalent of $22k/yr in today's money, I didn't do these things. That's one of the many reasons that I'm not still making $22k/year. These people can't delay gratification enough to save up, nor are they smart enough to earn a lot more. The best path is a tough call, because the renters-to-own aren't going to get any smarter - all we can change is whether or not it is possible to lend to them profitably.

Re:Rent a computer? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36020294)

Go to the library or use the school's computer lab. Unless there is very specific software needed, there's no problem, and if there is, it's likely on the school's computers already anyways.

Re:Rent a computer? (2)

Kral_Blbec (1201285) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020368)

The point is that they don't need to save for long time. Two of their "low payments" would be enough to buy a decent system outright. If they can make the "low payments" they can save.

Re:Rent a computer? (1)

corbettw (214229) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020194)

You assume these people can save the money in the first place, which in my experience is an erroneous assumption.

demonlapin got it right: if you outlaw rent-to-own, you're going to force the people who use those services to go somewhere worse. You will not make their lives better in your attempt to save them from their own stupidity.

Re:Rent a computer? (1)

artor3 (1344997) | more than 3 years ago | (#36019928)

It's like rent-a-center or payday loans. These companies exploit the poor by taking advantage of their lacking financial planning skills. Some of the blame certainly lies with the people who fall for these scams, but they are scams all the same.

It's no different from people being stupid enough to send money to Nigerian princes. You shouldn't hold the "prince" harmless.

Re:Rent a computer? (4, Informative)

adolf (21054) | more than 3 years ago | (#36019962)

My math says it's not so different from paying for a new PC with a credit card at not-very-favorable rates.

And, in both cases, there is the opportunity to buy/pay off the thing at any time. Aaron's retail prices tend to be on the high side of things, but not outlandishly so (in my observation).

And for some folks, renting is a distinct advantage: Why buy a thing, just to replace it a year or two later (and fuss with selling the old one), when you can just rent the current thing and have it replaced when it is deemed old?

These aren't leases. They're just month-to-month (sometimes, week-to-week) rentals. Need a fast laptop for a project, with no foreseeable need for one after that? Just rent one.

Want an additional comfy couch for the house and a big TV to watch "the game" on with your pals, and a dedicated fridge to keep the keg cold until it runs out, but have no desire for these things to take up long-term space? Rent 'em. They even drop them off and pick them up. (Hell, with the deposit for them, even the keg+tap might be considered to be a rental...)

Of course, there's the dark side, as well: Want a new computer, long-term, but can't afford one? Rent-to-own might not be the most practical choice.

All that said: I, myself, don't rent anything. I buy my houses and have my own name on the deed, I buy my cars, and I buy my electronics and furniture. I have rented apartments before, but got out of that game as quickly as possible. The closest thing I do to renting things, these days, is Netflix.

But I'm not allergic to the concept.

YMMV.

Re:Rent a computer? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36019982)

"Byrd and his 24-year-old wife, Crystal, said they paid two monthly installments of $156 for the laptop computer before deciding it made financial sense to make a final $900 payment to own the computer outright. That was in October."

Someone know math, someone doesn't know how to read.

Re:Rent a computer? (1)

flimflammer (956759) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020078)

If you ever get bored, go to the Rent-A-Center's website and check out some of the items and prices they're "renting" them for.

I remember checking out their price for a 360 a while back because I'd heard their prices after everything was said and done was a bit ridiculous. Boy was that an understatement. The final amount they wanted came to like $1400, for a $300 machine, and the monthly payments were like $120. I'm not sure how retarded people have to be to enter into deals like that, but I guess there's enough of them out there keeping that business running.

kinda funny... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36019788)

I do warranty repair for one of the oem brands that Aarons sells.(Think four letters.)
At least on the systems I've worked on replacing a variety of components I've NEVER seen anything added into the system hardware wise. Not that means that there isn't software installed but I can't imagine there being ROOM in some of these laptops for extra chips to be added in.
  I've been covering their contract for a couple of years now and have never seen anything to indicate something being physically added to the machines. The parts I get for their systems looks exactly like all the other parts I get...
So while there might be software installed the part in the article that mentions waving a wand to deactivate is funny...

I have worked on a lot of laptops there is room fo (1)

Joe The Dragon (967727) | more than 3 years ago | (#36019922)

I have worked on a lot of laptops there is room for a small usb based board to be jammed in there or some systems have ports that are covered by the case or can be made to look like there is no port there. Also some system have mostly side usb ports on there own mini board that can be tied into for a hidden board.

Electrical tape over the webcam (2)

jtownatpunk.net (245670) | more than 3 years ago | (#36019790)

Seriously. I own all of my hardware and do a bare-metal install on every laptop but there's no telling when some piece of malware may come out that secretly takes snapshots with the webcam. Or maybe I do a video chat then forget to turn off the camera. Heck, my current laptop doesn't even have a status light to warn me if it's on.

If I was renting/borrowing a laptop, I'd be even more inclined to be careful. Heck, I'd probably do everything on a VM.

Re:Electrical tape over the webcam (5, Funny)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36019882)

Easy to solve - just run Linux, and there's pretty much no chance of the webcam working even if you wanted it to ;)

Re:Electrical tape over the webcam (1)

Cryacin (657549) | more than 3 years ago | (#36019936)

A piece of duct tape over the camera works wonders too.

Re:Electrical tape over the webcam (1)

vajorie (1307049) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020088)

Post-it is better, it leaves no traces on the laptop. Yea, I'm serious... Well...

Re:Electrical tape over the webcam (1)

Sunshinerat (1114191) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020142)

Until someone hacks your Linux computer and gets the webcam working... while you assume it is not.
Electrical tape works best.

Re:Electrical tape over the webcam (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020182)

UVC only came about a decade late; but it has been quite helpful. Before UVC, we had One Man. [theinquirer.net] ...

Re:Electrical tape over the webcam (1)

jesseck (942036) | more than 3 years ago | (#36019916)

We have some older laptops at work that have physical switches that completely cover the webcam... it's sad few computers come with anything like that these days.

Re:Electrical tape over the webcam (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36020164)

Welcome to the world of Facebook, where "Got a super-secret prototype from work today. What do you all think of it?" is what we've come to expect as a society.

Re:Electrical tape over the webcam (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36019926)

parent++;

Same here, tape over all webcams... some webcams come with covers, but I haven't seen a laptop webcam that does. I wish I could disconnect the mics too, like I can on a desktop.

Re:Electrical tape over the webcam (1)

fuzzyfuzzyfungus (1223518) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020336)

I suspect that, with the downright spooky performance you can wring out of decent array mic designs(not in audiophile terms; but in 'picking perfectly audible human voices out of the background' terms) and the impressive size and relatively low price of MEMS mics, the days of unplugging the mic might be over soon in many cases(cases in both senses, in this case...)

30 seconds of googling pulls up a cute little 3x4mm package, 1mm high, SMT, pick and place compatible, mic and ADC in one package, under 650 microamps operational for the lot. If they didn't still cost $2/ea by the reel, those little bastards(or perhaps some superior competitor, I wasn't exactly comparison shopping) would be sprouting like barnacles on just about anything turing complete and intended for consumer use...

Ouch (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36019862)

Never mind the spying..this Aarons "deal" is a sucker punch to the wallet. They paid $1200 for that computer...WAAY too much to spend on a laptop computer if you are someone who can't pay for one outright. If you need more performance, desktops offer more bang for the buck and are cheaper. If you are so poor you can't come up with $400-$600, you have no business buying your own computer - go to a library, borrow a friend's, or build yourself a low end box from 6 year old technology.

Re:Ouch (1)

frozentier (1542099) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020156)

Never mind the spying..this Aarons "deal" is a sucker punch to the wallet.

ANYTHING bought on credit is like that. Did you pay sticker price for your car, or did you make payments on it? Did you pay cash for your house, or did you get a mortgage? Did you pay cash for college, or did you get a student loan? You are getting screwed on ANYTHING you don't pay cash for. Invasion of privacy doesn't have a damned thing to do with whether or not they had to make payments for a computer.

are "we" really better with our money? (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36019906)

I'm interested to read these comments regarding the fiscal foolishness of renting and have thought the exact same things when seen similar advertisements. I do wonder if the very rich would say the same about us in regards to buying land and houses though - how many times do we pay for our house at 7% PA over 25 years? Also how many of us have bought computers and gear on our credit cards at 15% PA or something?

It is true that the fool and his money are easily parted but I'm not so convinced that we're that much better than those who rent computers sometimes...

I do feel for those who really struggle and I think some of these attitudes (which I'm guilty off also) are a bit harsh. They're also seemingly more vulnerable to other illogical deals (in regards to the maths) like going in lotteries and other gambling (gee how does that casino pay for all that fancy stuff?). They use pawn brokers for temporary loans at ridiculous interest rates and are more prone to buy shonky cars with limited life/value again at bad interest rates etc.

I'm not any kind of expert in socialology but I'm sure there would have been studies and research done in how the poor are more susceptible to being tricked out of their already meagre resources. Its pretty easy for us "middle class" folks to be a bit wiser and more informed in such things.

Awful writing. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36020010)

I had to read this several times. The writing is trying to make it sound more dramatic or something, but it just comes off as bad and confusing. Here is everything the summary says about Byrd:

"Brian Byrd, 26, said the manager showed him a picture of Byrd using the computer — taken by the computer's webcam."

Who is Brian? Why is this written is passive voice? Why is the link text "image was shot with the help of spying software" and not something that describes the link?

Rent To Own (5, Insightful)

wlandman (964814) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020076)

Many people are taking an arrogant view of these people and there math skills. Yet those same people leaving comments live in houses they couldn't afford to buy outright. They drive cars, they can't afford either. I think most people use the Rent-To-Own because of cash-flow problems, not stupidity. Remember, it only takes one major emergency to help you lose everything. Don't laugh or look down upon these people.

Re:Rent To Own (1)

Kral_Blbec (1201285) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020388)

Big difference between a $300 computer and a $100k house. Anyone who has any "need" for a laptop should be able to scrap together 300 in a few weeks or months, especially considering that its only two or three of the payments they would have to make for a rent-to-own deal anyway.

I know times are tough but really? (1, Informative)

grapeape (137008) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020106)

Who in the hell would buy a computer from Rent A Center or Aaron Rents, etc. Computer speeds these days are primarily a luxury for home users...other than hardcore gamers there is very little that a person cant do with a 6 year old hand me down computer like you can pick up at yard sales for $50. I would say its a place for people with more money than sense...but of course its for people with no money and no sense. Their current flyer on their website shows a sempron based cheapo compaq for $99 a month for 12 months...not only is it a discontinues model but Microcenter about 8 miles away has the same one as a refurb for $249. I've been "broke ass poor" before but never stooped to that kind of gouging, I guess I just dont understand why anyone does.

Re:I know times are tough but really? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36020332)

Because your parents don't own a computer; and your friends that do bought theirs with cash (and such friends are no smarter).

Buying an internet allows you do get on the state government job website which maybe (a) required by your unemployment and (b) is the very hope of your dream job.

I'm glad YOU are educated... welcome to the real world; maybe help someone out?

that just makes us look bad (5, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36020132)

I work at an Aarons Sales and Lease. . As the resident tech guy, I install the PC agent software on all computers before they are sold. If we don't hear from a customer for more than usually around ten days after their bill is due, we send a lock out message. The software pings the server and a red screen pops up asking them to call the store. When they pay or make an arrangement with us, we give them a 7 digit code that unlocks it. It provides ability to view screenshots and take webcam shots but it is only used when a computer is reported stolen and we have a copy of a police report than we utilize it. When they pay out, I go online and mark the agent for uninstall and thats that.

As far at the RTO business model criticism goes, Aaron's at least cost about as much as if you charged it. All the computers have a two year warranty and I provide damn good customer service which makes up for any more of a price difference.

Re:that just makes us look bad (4, Insightful)

MimeticLie (1866406) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020364)

It provides ability to view screenshots and take webcam shots but it is only used when a computer is reported stolen and we have a copy of a police report than we utilize it.

Clearly that isn't the case.

wipe it (2)

erica_ann (910043) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020178)

I think if I rented a computer from anywhere, I would wipe the drive and install linux.. or at least reinstall windows using their windows key.. and when I returned it? I would low level format it ;) talk about an ID theft opportunity...

Re:wipe it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36020226)

Identity theft??? - These people are poor as shit, what's there to steal?

Re:wipe it (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36020270)

Wouldn't have helped in this case - the FTA mentions a hardware component.

News Flash (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 3 years ago | (#36020218)

Aaron's fined heavily for annoying country music ad (I guess I'm not in their target demographic).

Webcams are creepy (1)

Mike610544 (578872) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020272)

There should be a regulation that any audio/video capture device integrated into a computer can be disabled with a foolproof manual interlock. I'm thinking maybe a little cover that slides in front of the camera; I'm not sure how to do the equivalent with the mic.

Maybe I'm a bit paranoid, but I live in constant fear that my laptop is watching me... trying to figure out how to sap and impurify my precious bodily fluids.

Re:Webcams are creepy (2)

Dr Fro (169927) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020308)

How about a piece of duct tape?

Designerware (3, Interesting)

Animats (122034) | more than 3 years ago | (#36020342)

State of Pennsylvania Business Search [state.pa.us] :

DESIGNERWARE
Fictitious Names - Domestic
Entity Number: 2808492
Status: Active
Entity Creation Date: 3/30/1998
State of Business.: PA
Principal Place of Business: 108 HUTCHINSON
NORTH EAST (a real place, a borough of Erie County 5 miles northeast of the city of Erie) PA 16428-1710

Owners Name: TIMOTHY S KELLY

Google Maps shows that as a 2-story frame house in reasonably good condition with two cars in the driveway..

Dun and Bradstreet reports

DESIGNERWARE
Single Location: 108 HUTCHINSON DR, NORTH EAST, PA

You can buy a D&B credit report on them. [dnb.com]

Checking Erie County property records:

Address 108 | HUTCHINSON | DR
Acreage 0.2870
Topo LEVEL
Utility ALL PUBLIC
Zoning SINGLE FAMILY RESIDENTIAL
Land Value / Taxable 18,000 / 18,000.00
Building Value / Taxable 120,560 / 120,560.00
Total Value / Taxable 138,560 / 138,560.00
Clean & Green: Inactive
Homestead Status: Active
Style CONVENTIONAL
Basement FULL
Year Built 1973
Exterior Wall ALUMINUM/VINYL
Total Living Area 3156
Full Baths 2, Half Baths 1
Heating GAS, CENTRAL, FORCED AIR
Stories 2.0, Total Bedrooms 3, Total Family Rooms 0, Total Rooms 7, Fireplaces 1
REINFORCED CONCRETE POOL 1992
FRAME UTILITY SHED 1990
Sales History: 1/26/1990

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