Print 57 comment(s) - last by snakeInTheGras.. on Jul 25 at 2:50 PM

Smile! You might be being remotely monitored via webcam!  (Source: Ministry for the Environment)

Aaron's Inc. franchisees are free to continue to monitor laptop leasers via remote webcam spykit -- for now.
"Error: my sensor is dirty. Please take me in a steamy area... such as your shower."

Some may recall that back in May news broke of an Aaron's Inc. (AAN) franchisee remotely spying on users with a webcam to make sure they were making payments.  The incident led to one outraged couple filing suit against the company, seeking class action status.

Unfortunately for that couple -- Crystal and Brian Byrd -- there case was dealt a serious setback by Judge Sean Mclaughlin, a judge with the US District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania (Erie District).

In his ruling [Google Docs], the judge refused to grant a preliminary injunction, which would have banned Aaron's and its franchisees from both continuing to monitor users with the "PC Rental Agent" remote webcam spykit and from conducting activities to obfuscate which computers had the spykit installed.

In denying the injunction, Judge Mclaughlin opens the door to continued monitoring of users, and to the company disguising how many users it monitors.

The court rules that that the plaintiffs don't have the computer any more and thus are no longer suffering harm and that they provided insufficient evidence to demonstrate that other members of the potential class are currently suffering harm.

Basically the dilemma the Byrd family's lawyers face in arguing their case is that no current employees are willing to whistle blow on their employer and discuss remote monitoring.  Furthermore, the court is dismissing a former employee who did testify against the franchisee as non-credible in so much as they aren't a present employee ("...given by Ms. Hittinger, and no other information about the current practices of Ms. Hittinger's particular franchisee location were elicited. In fact, Ms. Hittinger no longer works at an Aaron's...").  

The court seems content to take the Aaron's franchisee at its word about how many computers its monitoring, while dismissing the plaintiff's claims as speculative, writing:

In fact, according to the testimony of Timothy Kelly, co-owner of DesignerWare, Inc., on May 3, 2011, only eleven computers were transmitting information via Detective Mode to Aaron‘s franchisees. ECF No. 43, page 190. This is contrasted to the testimony that ―roughly 80 to 100 computers every month get reported stolen from Aaron‘s franchises. Id. The Court was given no evidence or information regarding the computers that were so transmitting and no information about the laptop users – that is, whether they are the lessees or others in possession of the laptops.

The problem is that while the franchisee is "cooperating" with the investigation, there is a very real possibility that it can obfuscate its current surveillance from investigators.  As the court seems content only to consider taking action if additional evidence can be gathered, and will only consider current employees as dependable witnesses, the Byrd family's trial prospects aren't looking too good.

About the only think working on their side at this point is that the court ruled in favor of the plaintiffs in a similar case against the Lower Merion School District of Pennsylvania who installed webcam remote capture software on its student's 2,300 loaner laptops.

However, that case had the advantage of having all the laptops be government property, and all the software installation practices being carefully chronicled in local government documents from the school system.  This case is far different as it deals with a private entity, who likely won't be foolish enough to share documentation on the extent of its monitoring or share its laptop collection with investigators.

And there's still the outstanding question of whether webcam monitoring really violates the Wiretap Act and the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, which prevent the unauthorized interception of electronic communications.  In this case, the communication is not "intercepted" per se; it's initiated by the remote party.  

Thus while most in the public would understandably be repulsed and outraged at a company taking pictures of a family in a private setting, remote monitoring is a gray area of the law, particularly when the company owns the device in question.

Law enforcement and courts have shown willingness to side against lone parties, such as a former Apple, Inc. (AAPL) technician who installed remote monitoring software on Macs to take explicit photos of female clients.  However, whether courts will side against corporations engaging in somewhat similar behavior, particularly when it lacks the overt sexual overtones remains to be seen.  After all the corporations have the advantage of having money and greater privacy capabilities on their side.

Aaron's claims it doesn't monitor users remotely as a national practice.  But at this point it may be a moot point -- companies are one victory closer to watching their customers remotely.  Customers may complain -- but until additional legislation is passed, they may have little explicit legal recourse.

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RE: I don't get it
By nafhan on 7/20/2011 2:23:26 PM , Rating: 2
The only legit reason I can think of is if a PC is needed for only a very short period of time.

Anyway, I checked out computer rental (mostly out of curiosity) about 10 years ago, and was appalled by the high prices and outdated hardware. At that point, prices were a good bit higher than getting a monthly payment plan from Dell, etc.

RE: I don't get it
By Shadowmaster625 on 7/20/2011 2:54:29 PM , Rating: 2
I checked out computer rentals about 3 years ago. They had an athlon X2 system for like $40 a week. It was worth about $400 at the time. That fits my best estimates that 10 weeks of rental = the same price as purchasing outright. (Give or take a couplpe weeks.) Yes its an obvious scam, like payday loans.

RE: I don't get it
By DanNeely on 7/20/2011 3:37:10 PM , Rating: 2
A very bad deal for most customers isn't the same thing as a scam. If you've got any other sort of credit you'd be insane to use a payday loan/rent to own company; but some people either because they totally trashed their credit score or who due to working under the table don't have any credit history at all can't get any normal credit at all.

RE: I don't get it
By Solandri on 7/20/2011 4:07:54 PM , Rating: 5
The other reason for it is that they're unable to or incapable of saving the money to buy it on their own. Having worked with a lot of low-income people, I'd say that's actually the main reason, not bad credit. Even people with good credit fall into this trap - buying stuff they clearly can't afford on credit cards, and ending up paying 1.5x-2x as much over the many years it takes them to pay it off their cards.

The root problem IMHO is we don't teach basic home finance in school. Most of these people I talked to don't know how to balance a checkbook, or know but don't bother. They deposited their paychecks, then spent money until the ATM told them they didn't have any more money left. Then they tried to scrape by until the next paycheck.

In fact, I suspect this is part of the reason our government is so badly in debt. Too many voters either don't know or don't care about keeping spending less than revenue. So the politicians who overspend keep getting re-elected, while the politicians who are just trying to get us to live within our means keep getting demonized for "cutting beneficial programs".

RE: I don't get it
By cjohnson2136 on 7/20/2011 4:40:02 PM , Rating: 3
The root problem IMHO is we don't teach basic home finance in school.

I would agree my brother-in-law just graduated high school and opened a checking account recently so he has one for when he goes into the army. When he got his first statement in the mail and it talked about balancing your checkbook he looked at me and said, "WTF does that mean". It was seriously a facepalm moment. At least when I was in high school they had a class that thought basic money management skills which I think should be a requirement. You can know all the science and math you want but if you can't balance a check book or know how to save to money you are screwed.

RE: I don't get it
By TSS on 7/21/2011 5:17:05 AM , Rating: 2
Schools shouldn't need to. I'm sorry but i'm a highschool dropout, i've never seen an economics class in my life, but i've got excellent finances.

I'm not in debt, i've got more money saved up then most people double my income have, i've got a home fully furnished bought with saved up money, and i try to save atleast $1 every month as a minimum, and preferably as much as i can, with happens 9/12 months in a year. Even so, there are months where you simply lose money because of coinciding effects, like march for me when a lot of people i know have their birthday and all those presents add up, but i'm well aware of that and make sure i tighten my belt in februari so i save more.

How am i able to do this you ask? Not some magical accountant book or course, school education or even talent (i used to just give money away when i was very young, it didn't have any value for me). It's parenting. My dad has always taught me to be responsible with money, that it didn't grow on trees etc. He was never afraid to tell me some of the family finances when i asked for it. I often heard something like "well the city wants another $400 in taxes but it's ok i've got more then enough buffer to cover that".

He didn't teach me economics either. Hell when i go to super market i hardly ever look or remember prices, yet almost always end up with the same amount of money spent, never more then i can afford. He taught me common sense on the matter. That, if you want to live a comfertable life, you do not spend beyond your means. And if you do, you can live a much more enjoyable life then the discomfort you recieve when your finances catch up to you.

Parenting is the awnser. Not blaming schools.

And if that doesn't convince you, in addition to not having any debt i also have a 56" HDTV and 2 computers while getting about $20,000 a year. *Just* from finanical common sense. Not even any dirty tricks required, i hate being a jackass.

RE: I don't get it
By JediJeb on 7/21/2011 11:05:29 AM , Rating: 2
You sir have commonsense, something that comes naturally for some, and is the opposite of what most school kids are being taught right now.

Honestly this is exactly how our government should be acting with our money, and so should the rest of us. I do have some debts that I am paying off but I also take away from that the fact that I can changes some of my prior habits to avoid it in the future. Like not getting engaged to someone who looks at the bank statement online and sees $400 in the bank and even though she just wrote a rent check for $350 thinks she still has $400 to spend. I won't make that mistake again.

The hardest thing to convince people in general of is that they do not "Need" the 56" HDTV, but if they can save up the money, they can splurge on it without causing a problem. I still don't one a flat screen TV of any type, and I hope my 31" CRT lasts a little longer until I save up the money for something nicer, but even after spending $900 in cash for it back in 1995 it still works so something better is a "want" not a "need".

RE: I don't get it
By cjohnson2136 on 7/21/2011 11:24:09 AM , Rating: 2
I would definitely agree with as I am the same with my money. But the issue is there are plenty of people with no common sense and with the parents that don't have the ability to teach them the right thing because the parent does not know the right thing. I am not suggesting a course in economics I am suggesting a simple math course that teaches them how to handle money. The problem is, yes you might be a high school drop out and have the common sense but I would say a much larger majority don't have that common sense with no one teaching them the right thing.

RE: I don't get it
By steven975 on 7/20/2011 4:55:24 PM , Rating: 3
You forgot the part where they spend until the ATM says they have no more money, so they then use their debit card and pay those overdraft fees. Then they go complain.

The other side of that is that those who have a handle on our finances enjoy things like debit rewards, interest, and fee-free checking.

Dodd, Frank, and Obama ruined that gravy-train though.

RE: I don't get it
By Aloonatic on 7/20/2011 5:22:11 PM , Rating: 2
I think you in the US struggle with the same issue that we are in the UK with your economy and you're right about "evil conservatives" who actually want to make it so that the country lives within its means.

Fortunately, the British people just about woke up in time and we have a government in place that is willing to make the unpopular but necessary financial decisions that are needed.

One of the problems that we faced was that many of "the people" and the previous UK government have got themselves caught up in a mutually beneficial lie, i.e. that all the financial problems that we are facing is due to a small handful of highly paid bankers.

The reality is that bankers did make mistakes and leant too much, but they weren't roaming the street with machine guns forcing people to take on personal debts, and the British government wasn't complaining about the growth in the retail sector that was fuelled by them. They'd been told that recessions were a thing of the past, so they figured that they just needed to make minimum payments and if they wanted something new, just get another credit card.

Sadly, many are still in denial, and few realise that it's the vast amount of personal debt, rather than national debt, that is the real mill stone around our economies neck. People know that they can;t just get more credit any more, and banks are being more responsible, but no one seems happy to put 2 and 2 together to realise that this is the main reason why fewer people are spending on the high street.

No one wants to admit it though. It's aaaalllll the bankers' fault, they were just innocent victims, and so was the government that they voted in who kept on giving them more and more benefits and handouts.

For many who can't get credit now, renting is the only way, and suddenly there are more electrical rental shops popping up. I assume something similar is happening in the US too.

RE: I don't get it
By bigdawg1988 on 7/21/2011 2:08:16 PM , Rating: 2
For many who can't get credit now, renting is the only way

There is always the library... unless you're using it for porn or something. Which brings up another matter... how can they afford the internet plan when they can't afford the computer? What is really sad is that they probably won't even use the darn thing except for surfing the internet anyway, which you can do for free at almost any library. Problem is, they were never instructed by their parents, who were never instructed by their parents, and so the cycle almost never ends....

I wouldn't rent a damn thing from Aaron's, except MAYBE a big screen TV for the Superbowl or something, and I'd make sure I had a bunch of friends to share the cost with even then.

RE: I don't get it
By snakeInTheGrass on 7/25/2011 2:50:28 PM , Rating: 2
Uh, well the bankers / mortgage brokers were the ones running around telling people - people who I'm sure they knew didn't know any better, since otherwise they would never have signed up for these 'magic' loans - that they no longer needed to put any money down, didn't need to provide employment information or financial history, and that the value of the homes could only go up. (Not to mention jokes like interest only.)

Now that's something that someone with common sense wouldn't buy into, but for the class of people they were trying to get into taking out loans, that sounds just great - much better than pay-day loan or another loan on the car.

For the banks it meant closing fees at the time of signing and some sweeeet bonuses for the brokers and the bank execs. And then a government bailout that made them even richer.

See, everyone wins.

I don't absolve people for their stupidity - they were idiots for not even trying to figure out that if it seems to good to be true, it probably is, but at the same time, they were just idiots.

The people running the financial institutions were deliberate. Would YOU give a loan to someone you don't know with no collateral and no information about their employment? Want to give me a big loan? They were greedy, plain and simple - money 'earned' and on the books now meant HUGE bonuses, long-term issues with the loans be damned. And if by the 'government that they voted in' you mean Obama & Co., this was all going on under Bush's watch. Both parties turned a blind eye in exchange for campaign kickbacks and to woo voters, so please let's not make this some bogus red/blue party pissing contest, they're all corrupt.

FWIW, I worked at one of the 'evil' companies during those years, and I can say at least some of the IT peons wondered just what in the hell the execs were thinking with the business policies they were pushing since they didn't seem remotely reasonable for a responsible lender. And they weren't. At least the answer is clear now - bailout, giant bonuses, and retirement. Nice deal if you can swing it by running your business in a negligent manner, huh?

RE: I don't get it
By StuckMojo on 7/20/2011 4:42:54 PM , Rating: 2
Payday loans aren't so bad, it's presented poorly in the press because it makes a nice target. If you *really* need the money now, paying $15 to borrow $100 until your next paycheck (and it's the same $15 if you're paid in a month or a week, thus it's a fee not interest) really isn't exorbitant. That said, if you have credit you'd using something else like a credit card...but if you don't and it's your only choice, it's really not as bad as it's made out to be.

Multiplying it out to yearly interest APR is not exactly a fair way to look at the cost.

Disclaimer: 1) I work for a (good) payday loan company, and 2) I've taken a loan from my own company when I first started because I'd been out of work for a while.

RE: I don't get it
By FlyBri on 7/20/2011 6:04:30 PM , Rating: 2
Just like StuckMojo said, payday loans aren't as bad as many make them out to be. Yes, I'm sure there are some places that gouge their customers, and that's not right. But people don't understand the high risk (and thus high cost) involved in lending someone money without doing a credit check, especially in today's economy. Hell, they're even using credit checks as part of the job interview process.

Calculating a payday loan's fees into an APR (as payday lenders are forced to do by law) totally misrepresents what a payday loan is, as it is not a revolving loan like credit cards, auto loans, or mortgages -- it's a temporary, short-term loan.

Disclaimer: I DO NOT work for a payday lender, or any lender for that matter. I do however work in the consumer credit industry, where I am helping consumers find various forms of credit in an open, transparent, and unbiased way.

RE: I don't get it
By Fritzr on 7/21/2011 10:18:35 AM , Rating: 1
If you need a short term loan overdraft your bank account ... the fees for a similar period of time will be lower than a payday loan.

If you do not expect to be able to repay the overdraft within the 4 weeks allowed then a payday loan is what you will need as it can be rolled over even when the local laws do not allow explicit rollovers.

Best of all though is to pay bills and put the money for the trip or gadget in savings until you have enough to cover the cost. Major expenses like uninsured medical are the killers that cause the low income workers to not have even enough to buy food and pay bills. This is when payday loans become a very deadly financial trap that is very attractive when the power is shut off or the bill collectors become too demanding.

RE: I don't get it
By Avatar28 on 7/21/2011 11:06:00 AM , Rating: 2
If you need a short term loan overdraft your bank account ... the fees for a similar period of time will be lower than a payday loan

What bank do you bank with? I might have to switch my accounts over. My bank charges something like $37.50 per ITEM (up to a maximum of 3 or 4 items per day) and those fees come out the next afternoon and then you get hit by even more overdraft fees the following night. It's entirely possible to be $10 or $20 short and end up with an account that is several hundred dollars overdrawn.

Yeah, payday loans are for suckers but I'd rather give $15-20 to them than $200 to my bank for overdraft fees.

RE: I don't get it
By rburnham on 7/20/2011 7:06:33 PM , Rating: 2
I can see a need if you rarely travel, but then decide to take a trip somewhere and you feel you will need a PC on the go.

"The Space Elevator will be built about 50 years after everyone stops laughing" -- Sir Arthur C. Clarke

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