Webcam Spying Case Raises User Knowledge and Consent Issues

Lora Bentley
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In a case highly reminiscent of last year's lawsuit against a Pennsylvania school district, a Wyoming couple is suing the company from which they rented a laptop, arguing that the company violated their privacy by using the laptop's webcam to spy on them. According to CNET News, Crystal and Brian Byrd accuse the rent-to-own store of taking pictures of them with DesignerWare software called PC Rental Agent.


Like the software used by the Pennsylvania school district, PC Rental Agent is designed to allow rental stores to track their laptops in the event that customers steal or damage them. When it became clear that the school district did not inform parents and students that the webcams on student laptops could be activated remotely, the school district settled the case for $610,000. Similarly, the customers' knowledge of the software and consent to its use is the central issue in this case.


At first blush, it appears that they did not. As Brian Byrd told the media:

I never thought in a million years anybody would do something like that. I read the contract. I read every word of it and it doesn't say anything in the contract about it either.

Apparently, the Byrds found out about the pictures when an agent from the rental store came to their house and accused them of defaulting on the rental agreement. The Byrds, of course, deny the allegations.

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