How spyware on rental PCs captured users' most intimate moments

On the second-to-last Monday of 2010, Brian Byrd was playing video poker on his Dell Inspiron laptop when someone knocked on the door of his home in Casper, Wyoming. The visitor, who drove a truck from the local Aaron's rent-to-own store that furnished the PC five months earlier, said the 25-year-old Byrd was behind in his payments and demanded he pay up at once. He then brandished a picture that was about to cause a national privacy uproar.

The image showed Byrd on his home couch using the very laptop in question to play online poker. The employee was also privy to a screenshot of the website Byrd's PC was displaying the moment the photo was surreptitiously taken, along with keystrokes he was entering while visiting a website. When Byrd demanded an explanation, the employee, identified in a police report as 24-year-old Christopher Mendoza, said he wasn't supposed to answer. But he went on to disclose that the PC contained software that allowed Aaron's employees to track its physical location and remotely activate its webcam and capture screenshots and keystrokes. Mendoza, according to court records, left the premises after Byrd produced a copy of a receipt showing the laptop had been paid for in full on October 1.