FTC Approves Final Order Settling Charges that Aaron’s Inc. Allowed Franchisees to Spy on Consumers via Rental Computers

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Following a public comment period, the Federal Trade Commission has approved a final order settling charges that Aaron’s Inc., a national rent-to-own retailer, knowingly played a direct and vital role in its franchisees’ installation and use of software on rental computers that secretly monitored consumers, including taking webcam pictures of them in their homes.

Under the terms of a consent agreement, first announced in October 2013, Aaron’s is prohibited from using monitoring technology to gather consumers’ information from rental computers, or receiving, storing or communicating such information, except to provide technical support at a consumer’s request. The terms of the settlement also bar the company from gathering information from any consumer product via geophysical location tracking technology without clearly notifying and obtaining express consent from consumers at the time of rental. Aaron’s is further prohibited from installing or activating such technology on rental computers that does not clearly notify consumers of its presence immediately before each use, including via a prominent icon on the computer.

The order further bars Aaron’s from deceptively gathering information about consumers, and from using improperly obtained information to collect debt, money or property as part of a rent-to-own transaction. The company must delete or destroy any information it has collected improperly, and can transmit information obtained via monitoring or location tracking only if it is encrypted. In addition, the order requires Aaron’s to conduct annual monitoring and oversight of its franchisees for compliance with the terms of the agreement, act immediately to ensure compliance, and terminate any franchisee that fails to comply.

The Commission vote approving the final order and letters to members of the public who commented on it was 4-0. (FTC File No. 1123264; the staff contact is Julie Mayer, 206-220-4475.)

The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics. Like the FTC on Facebook, follow us on Twitter, and subscribe to press releases for the latest FTC news and resources.

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