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In the Matter of DesignerWare

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Citation Edit

In the Matter of DesignerWare, FTC File No. 112 3151 (full-text).

Complaint Edit

According to the FTC's complaint, the software design firm, Designware, licensed software to rent-to-own stores to help them track and recover rented computers. The software collected data that enabled the stores to track the location of rented computers without the consumer's knowledge.

According to the FTC, DesignerWare's software contained a "kill switch" the rent-to-own stores could use to disable a computer if it was stolen, or if the renter failed to make timely payments. DesignerWare also had an add-on program known as "Detective Mode" that purportedly helped rent-to-own stores locate rented computers and collect late payments. DesignerWare's software also collected data that allowed the rent-to-own operators to secretly track the location of rented computers, and thus the computers' users.

When Detective Mode was activated, the software could log key strokes, capture screen shots and take photographs using a computer's webcam, the FTC alleged. It also presented a fake software program registration screen that tricked consumers into providing their personal contact information.

Data gathered by DesignerWare and provided to rent-to-own stores using Detective Mode revealed private and confidential details about computer users, such as user names and passwords for email accounts, social media websites, and financial institutions; Social Security numbers; medical records; private emails to doctors; bank and credit card statements; and webcam pictures of children, partially undressed individuals, and intimate activities at home, according to the FTC.

In its complaint against DesignerWare, the FTC charged that licensing and enabling Detective Mode, gathering personal information about renters, and disclosing that information to the rent-to-own businesses was unfair, and violated Section 5 of the FTC Act. The agency also alleged that DesignerWare’s use of geolocation tracking software without first obtaining permission from the computers' renters and notifying the computers' users was unfair and illegal. It charged that providing the rent-to-own operators the means to break the law was unfair, and providing the fake registration forms to obtain consumer data was deceptive.

The rent-to-own companies were charged with breaking the law by secretly collecting consumers' confidential and personal information and using it to try to collect money from them. Use of the bogus "registration" information was deceptive, the FTC alleged.

Consent Order Edit

The settlements bar the companies from any further illegal spying, from activating location-tracking software without the consent of computer renters and notice to computer users, and from deceptively collecting and disclosing information about consumers.

The proposed settlement orders will ban the software company and the rent-to-own stores from using monitoring software like Detective Mode and will ban them from using deception to gather any information from consumers. They also will prohibit the use of geolocation tracking without consumer consent and notice, and bar the use of fake software registration screens to collect personal information from consumers. In addition, DesignerWare will be barred from providing others with the means to commit illegal acts, and the seven rent-to-own stores will be prohibited from using information improperly gathered from consumers in connection with debt collection. All the proposed settlements contain record keeping requirements to allow the FTC to monitor compliance with the orders for the next 20 years.

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