After George Orwell’s novel, “1984”, was published, the term “Big Brother” became a household name. It is used to refer to any institution or practice that allows companies or organizations to see what people are doing no matter where they are. The term has been applied to everything from traffic light cameras to Google’s practice of tracking consumers’ search histories.
But most disturbing of all is a recent lawsuit against Aaron’s Inc., a rental company, alleging it leased computers that contained spyware. Aaron’s allegedly used the software to take pictures of people in their homes via the computers’ webcams, as well as screenshots taken while the leased computers were in use. According to the lawsuit, even when users thought their computers were turned off, the spyware could turn it on and take photos via the computer’s webcam. The information collected by the rental company in this manner allegedly included highly sensitive emails and pictures, including pictures of nude children and people having sex.
Crystal and Brian Byrd sued Aaron’s Inc. for the alleged improper use of this spyware and the alleged invasion of privacy it created. Although the rental company is based in Atlanta, the couple sued in Pennsylvania because that’s where DesignerWare, the manufacturer of the spyware, is from. The Byrds sought class action status for their lawsuit, claiming hundreds of consumers have allegedly been victimized by the illegal spyware.
A federal magistrate in Pennsylvania denied class action status to the couple, but they appealed that decision and the case went to the Third Circuit Court. That appellate court ruled in favor of the Byrds, calling the spyware “Orwellian-like” and pointing to the complaint, which alleged that there was no way of knowing whether you were being watched at any given point in time.
After the Byrds filed their lawsuit, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) launched an investigation against Aaron’s Inc. regarding the alleged use of spyware. The FTC referred to the spyware as being in “Detective Mode” when activated without consumer’s knowledge. It concluded that the software had the potential to be very intrusive and to invade consumers’ privacy.
Aaron’s Inc. agreed to settle the FTC’s allegations. A key part of the settlement prohibits the rental company from using software on its leased computers to spy on consumers. It also prevents Aaron’s from using any information already gleaned by the illegal spyware.
Although that settlement resolves the matter of Aaron’s using the spyware in the future, it does not resolve the claims of those already allegedly harmed through the company’s alleged illegal behavior. Now that the Third Circuit has determined that the U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania abused its discretion when it initially denied the plaintiffs class action status, the case will be returned to the lower courts.
This gives the Byrds a second chance at class action status for their lawsuit. If they are successful, hundreds of people who rented computers from Aaron’s could be eligible to receive compensation for the loss of their privacy as a result of the spyware. Aaron’s has denied the claims and is fighting the class case.Do you have a cell phone or telephone number? Are you getting unsolicited marketing texts or unwanted collection or marketing calls for strangers? Unless you gave express permission, these texts and/or calls may give rise to violations ofe the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991 and you may be entitled to relief of $500-$1500 per text message or telephone call. This is true even if the previous owner of the cell telephone number gave permission. What should you do? You should save copies of all the offending texts and voicemails, document the identity of the sender (i.e. which vendor, collection agency, etc.) and contact the attorneys at Nationwide Consumer Rights for a free evaluation of your potential claims. You can call us at our toll free number 630-333-0333 or contact us online. One of our Chicago, Auora and Elgin area TCPA lawyers can help protect your privacy rights.