SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- A new law in California that took effect January 1 limits the ability of rent-to-own companies to install spyware that could monitor a customer's every move. That spyware can be installed on a renter's computers without their knowledge or consent.
Spyware is capable of not only tracking your every key stroke, but can also take control of your camera. Over the last few years, regulators have been cracking down and now California is finally joining the anti-spyware crusade.
Aaron's is the latest of at least eight rent-to-own companies which have settled complaints in the last few years over the installation of spyware.
The national chain which has a location in Sunnyvale agreed to a Federal Trade Commission order prohibiting it from using its rental computers to spy on consumers.
"It's outrageous, you know when you are renting a computer you're not giving permission to the rental company to capture all the information including your emails, and even pictures of you," said Richard Holober, Executive Director of the Consumer Federation of California.
The Consumer Federation of California successfully sponsored state legislation banning the practice without first notifying the consumer. This comes on top of a settlement announced in October between Aaron'sand the California Attorney General's Office.
"They did not notify consumers and that was centrally itself a main issue that Attorney General Kamala Harris felt was important that we rectify and fix," said Jeff Tsai, Special Assistant to the Attorney General.
Spyware can have useful functions, such as allowing a technology company to remotely repair your computer. It also has less altruistic applications.
"In at least one case the company employee was taking screen shots of the computer owner with his wife doing things that were intimate," Holober said.
That's what happened to a former UC Berkeley student who was victimized by an ex- boyfriend, Jose Moreno.
Prosecutors in Sacramento talked about how Moreno used spyware and video cameras. "And he took repugnant photographs of her, naked in the shower, naked in the bathroom," Sacramento County Prosecutor Michelle Restrepo said.
Moreno was sentenced to 20 years in prison last January. His victim asked that her name not be used. "I don't think life will ever be the same, but the healing process starts now," she said.
The Attorney General says its investigation into other spyware cases is ongoing.
"We are continuing to see many instances of this kind of secret surreptitious spyware being utilized," Tsai said.
Under the law, violators would be required to reimburse parts of the cost of the rental, plus pay possible damages as determined by the courts. Aaron's declined an opportunity to comment for this story.