Oct 22 2013

Renting isn’t an excuse for spying

Published by at 8:42 pm under General

I know Rich, Zach and I talked about Aaron’s before on the podcast.  This is a company that rents out many items to customers, including laptops.  A few years ago they thought it was a good idea for some of their franchises to install software on the laptops which allowed administrators at the stores to take screenshots, capture keystrokes and generally spy on the activities of the users of the computer without their knowledge.  And apparently some administrators were using this capability to take pictures of in ‘intimate moments’.  Yeah, I think we all know what that really means.

I’ve always said this level of monitoring by anyone, not just the owner of the computer, of another human being is a horrendous invasion of privacy.  We have so little privacy left right now, to have the computer you rented taking pictures of you is unexcusable.  I fully admit there are legitimate uses of this sort of technology, such as finding a stolen laptop or tracking a deadbeat renter, but this type of usage has to be very narrowly defined and the administrators of the system have to be trained in the allowable uses and ethics of the technology.

This highlights the problem of enabling spying capabilities in a microcosm.  If we don’t very carefully lay out what is and isn’t acceptable usage, the systems are going to be abused.  Some of it will be innocent testing of the limits and finding edge cases.  But a lot of what will happen is that people will do things they know are wrong, simply because it feeds their darker desires.  

Aaron’s took a running leap over the line with their spyware and never even understood that there was a line.  I’m sure the legal battle with their customers and the FTC has made them painfully aware of that line and they’ll be a lot more careful in the future.  But I’m waiting for a car dealership to install something similar in all their rentals.  Oh, wait, they’ve already done that and been slapped down.  Maybe furniture rental places will put motion sensors in their sofas to determine when people are having sex on the couch and charge them extra at the end of the contract next.  It could happen.

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