back to article Go ahead and spy on customers, says judge

A lawsuit aiming to stop rental company Aaron’s in the US from installing spyware on its machines – whose capability includes taking images of users with a PC’s webcam – has hit a setback, with a judge refusing to grant a preliminary injunction against the practise. The original complaint against Aarron’s was that its …


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  1. Trib

    This judge must be an idiot

    "Since the laptop is no longer in their possession, but that of the police, the Byrds can’t be at risk of harm; ergo, no injunction."

    Except that the laptop would contain information that COULD be harmful if this information was used. What if there are account numbers and passwords that go in the wrong hands because this software was insecure or was use for reasons that it shouldn't be used for. If there is one thing that we know, human nature will make us curious, and people that have access to use this software will 'peek; from time to time.

    "...former employee of the Aaron’s franchise testified that the software routinely had, in the past, captured highly sensitive information such as bank account details (since it can be configured to capture keystrokes as well as webcam pictures), the judge decided that since the evidence was given by someone no longer in Aaron’s employ, what had happened in the past didn’t count as evidence of likely future harm."

    And there is it , right there. A former employee had the ability to get bank account details. How can this no be likely future harm!

    Perhaps if the rental contract made it clear that this software was on your system and what it could do, and you signed it saying you agree. Otherwise, I cannot see any reason this would be okay.

  2. Charles Manning

    Why is "rent to buy" disturbing?

    Until you have fully paid for the computer, it remains their property. Surely a company has the right to run whatever they like on their computers, so long as they tell you they are doing so.

    Don't like the terms & conditions? Go somewhere else.

    1. g e

      And once paid for

      the software continues to phone home?

    2. Ralthor


      You arguament is akin to saying I have the right to set up hidden cameras in the bedrooms of the apartment I rent to you. After all it belongs to me.

      1. Richard 120


        it's like the bank setting up hidden cameras in your home because you haven't paid up the mortgage yet.

      2. Anonymous Coward

        argument doesn't work

        You can't run away with the apartment. You can run off with the PC. Therefore you need different security measures to protect your property.

    3. David Neil

      Fail for reading comprehension

      The lawsuit was brought as the client had made the final payment and a screw up at the rental agency resulted in the revelation of the photographs.

      Also it wasn't mentioned in the T&C's


      It was no longer their machine

      They didn't tell the client the software was there

  3. Jared Vanderbilt

    Ok by me if they fully disclose their monitoring policy.

    Consumers have other options. Let the market determine which companies and monitoring activities survive.

    Rental vehicle companies have been doing this for years with on-board GPS.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      "Rental vehicle companies have been doing this for years with on-board GPS."

      That must be some pretty hefty GPS to get hold of your bank account details...

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Big Brother

        Re: hefty GPS

        Or take your picture...

    2. Woodgar

      re: Ok by me if they fully disclose their monitoring policy.

      "Rental vehicle companies have been doing this for years with on-board GPS."

      Maybe if the software only reported back the location of the laptop on a daily basis, then your argument may hold water. But the software did far more than this.

    3. Tom 13

      I'm all in favor of full disclosure,

      but in this case, full disclosure doesn't cover it sufficiently. A GPS tracker, sure. A keystroke logger that accesses PII, nope. The judge must be looking for a quick, involuntary retirement. And that's saying something for a position that here in The States is usually a lifetime appointment.

  4. Ragarath


    I hope I never meet a Judge that incompetent. Because your paid for property is not currently on your hands its not a problem. What happens when they get it back?

    1. Sam Liddicott

      Your getting your judges confused

      This Judge is judging according to the law in relation to the case that was brought before him; he doesn't get to judge right from wrong - customers can do that themselves.

      He's not Judge Dredd who IS the law.

      And he's not the Judge upstairs who's prerogative it is to judge right from wrong.

      If it happens that what was done was not against the law, then maybe get some better law.. wiretapping seemed a bit of a stretch for me - if it did apply it would be a surprise and laws which apply in surprising ways ARE BAD LAWS.

      1. Someone Else Silver badge

        As are you, Sam

        "Magistrate Judge Susan Baxter decided that an injunction can only be granted [...]"

        He's not even a he...unless he is the proverbial "Boy Named Sue".

      2. Tom 13

        No, the judge willfully misapplied the law.

        The plaintiff filed not only for themselves, but applied for class action. In this instance the class was suitably well defined, and there was cause to believe that many or all of them would have been potentially harmed by the company's actions, particularly as they have KEYSTROKE loggers installed. While the original plaintiff's equipment was in the hands of the police, most if not all of the rest of the class certainly was not.

  5. Martijn Otto
    Thumb Up

    Good news for that guy who made mac spyware

    He can now start a rental service and get to his blurry shower pictures without fear of prosecution.

  6. Elmer Phud

    How long?

    How long before it's widely known by potential customers that Aaron will spy on them?

    How long before Aaron close?

  7. Anonymous Coward


    I winder if a judge can be sued for stupidity?

    1. Noons

      Yes, but...

      ... you're unlikely to win the case. Stupidity is not illegal (except in a few special cases). We'd have to build many more prisons if it were.

  8. Wallyb132

    Fortunately they're in Wisconsin

    Not in California (the 9th circuit would probably uphold the rulings), so these asinine rulings should get overturned if they decide to appeal, at least the bit about them not possessing the laptop so they cant be harmed. I'm sure they're attorney has already filed the proper paperwork with the local coppers to get the laptop returned to them so that future harm can take place...

    I love this country, logic and common sense have never been a requirement for high level positions such as judges...

    1. Michael Wojcik Silver badge


      The plaintiffs, their local franchise, and the judge in question are all in Wyoming, according to the story. Though you're correct that they're not in the 9th circuit. (I have no idea how the 10th typically rules on this sort of thing.)

  9. PsychicMonkey

    is this judge

    a complete idiot? certainly sounds like it.

  10. SuperTim

    Which is why...

    You wipe the machine and start from scratch whenever you buy one.

  11. Captain TickTock
    Big Brother


    land of the free...

    1. Anonymous Coward


      "America, the land of the free!

      But only for those with enough money."

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Thumb Down

    Evidence of a former employee

    "...since the evidence was given by someone no longer in Aaron’s employ, what had happened in the past didn’t count as evidence of likely future harm"

    Strange logic, that. What does it matter that it is a former employee? Given that the software is still installed on numerous laptops in the hands of people who are probably unaware of it, the company is likely to continue its behaviour - so what happened in the past definitely counts as evidence of likely future harm.

    Or is it yet another example of courts or regulatory bodies (on both sides of the pond) going easy on companies that spy on people. Almost as if the govts want to franchise it out.

    1. Someone Else Silver badge
      Black Helicopters

      Maybe not so strange after all

      Actually, this judge may have (shrewdly) set the legal precedent to eliminate (or, at least, severely limit) whistleblowers. Since most whistleblowers get dismissed from the employ of the company/entity whose bad practices are being exposed to the harsh light of day, a judge following this line of "logic" now can dismiss any actions taken by victims of this bad practice, because " the evidence was given by someone no longer in <insert nefarious company's name here>'s employ, what had happened in the past didn’t count as evidence of likely future harm"

      Alito and Roberts would be so proud!

      1. Field Marshal Von Krakenfart
        Black Helicopters

        Shrewdly, don't call me Shrewdly!!!

        I don't think I'd call it shrewd.

        When I hear of a case like this where the judges’ decision defies logic, I also think of the Pennsylvania "Kids for cash" case in 2008. Two judges, mark ciavarella and michael conahan were accused of accepting money from the builder and owner of two private for-profit juvenile detention centres, the PA Child Care in Pittston Township and Western PA Child Care in Butler County and according to Michael Moore’s “Capitalism; a love story”, they also closed the sate run facility. They then imposed harsh and excessive sentences on juveniles brought before their courts to ensure that the privately run detention centres would be fully utilized.

        Shrewd???? Suspicious is the word I'd use

  13. Anonymous Coward

    only in America

    Can you not be guilty because the person saying you did it no longer likes you

  14. John G Imrie

    Do you break the rental agreement...

    If you wipe the OS and install Linux on it?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      But who cares? Then they're screwed.

  15. Thomas 4

    Sounds pretty mucky

    Whatever way you look at it. Has the company stated why this software is installed? I don't want my back account details recorded by *anyone*, let alone my ugly face.

    1. Ken Hagan Gold badge

      Re: pretty mucky

      A case of confused priorities there. Your face is presumably already in the public domain but presumably your bank account details aren't.

      And here was me thinking there was a constitutional right to privacy on the left bank of the pond. I wonder how this judge would have decided on a case of CCTV in a public swimming pool changing room. I mean, customers aren't buying the swimming pool, merely renting the use of it, so why shouldn't the owner keep tabs on what they are doing?

  16. sw1sstopher

    The law is an ass....

    .....Where's the donkey avatar ?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Not only that

      But the law is a ass. (Not a typo)

  17. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Informed Consent?

    Was there a bit where Arron advertised or advised that one of their features was the We spy on you better than the other guys'?

    I suspect not, hopefully the publicity they are now getting will help to shift their shady business practice into the chapter 11 section of the court system.

    I am not so surprised that the land of the far from free has implicitly started to allow such sharp practice.

    How about the case of allowing/having allowed a child to use such a machine then going after Arron for hosting child porn?

    Stick to buy-wipe-re-install or build it yourself for PCs in future - and in the past.

    Mind you I bet Arron do not give you the install disks that you would need to follow the wipe route.

  18. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

    Elected judges?

    Is this one of those quaint places where they still elect their judges, sheriffs, dog catchers et al?

  19. Shambles

    In the slammer

    Someone at Aarons should be doing Bird for this. Or should that be Byrd?

  20. Whitter

    What is at obvious fault?

    Seems the judge has ruled based on *their* opinion of potential harm. That's not ruling on a point of law itself. So from this can we conclude:

    Judge: A definite arse.

    Law: Maybe an arse.

  21. kmitchell3

    No longer in possession

    Let me get this straight using another example: if someone's computer is confiscated by the police because it contains child pornography etc, then because it is no longer in that person's possession, then no harm is currently being done to the victim and the perpetrator therefore cannot be charged.

  22. kmitchell3

    no longer employed by company

    Also, if I commit a grievous crime against someone on behalf of the mafia, then leave the employ of the mafia, then the mafia who ordered the crime is exempt from prosecution because I have left the company.

  23. Anonymous Coward

    Can't believe they could be so stupid

    not the judge - the company.

    Just imagine what sort of images that webcam could catch - and the legal situation of an employee who was watching it ...

    I can't see any UK company (is there a big domestic PC rental market ?) getting the OK from their lawyers to do this. Imagine a machine in a teenage girls bedrooms, and what images the company could squirrel into their logging database ... and then think how the UK law treats people with such images on their hard drive ....

  24. Shonko Kid

    I hope the Dirty Digger's law team are watching this case

    " the judge decided that since the evidence was given by someone no longer in Aaron’s employ, what had happened in the past didn’t count as evidence of likely future harm."

    That could be a nice get-out-of-jail-free card right there for them!

  25. Da Weezil
    Big Brother

    "In the past"

    Surely ALL witness testimony is based on past events... the current employment status of the witness is immaterial to the fact that this stuff is potentially on many machines out there without the users knowledge or express consent.

    This is a blatant and unjustifiable invasion of privacy by a company - which highlights why the corporate world needs putting in its place from time to time. GPS may track a hire car... but it doesn't have the ability to take nude photos of you in your own home - or of your kids if the machine is in a childs room.

    Would you feel comfortable having this scum-ware on a machine used by your family - including your kids? I wouldn't. Time this company was investigated to see what nature of images they are acquiring by stealth.

  26. Anonymous Coward

    Wonder if t he Ts&Cs...

    ... forbid running a Ubuntu LiveCD on them?

  27. Anonymous Coward

    Most of you seem to be missing a key point....

    The judge denied a PRELIMINARY injunction. The judge has not ruled on the case; the judge decided there was insufficient grounds to force action prior to the trial.

    While I agree with most of you that this is a wrong decision, it is FAR from final. All it means is the case moves forward and the couple can try to prove their point.

    This may be the case of a judge who is not very computer literate, taking the safe course of not reacting until all the data and explanations are in.

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