Access control technology grants creditors control over debtors


Between 2010 and 2016, access control spyware implementing a remote "kill switch" was installed increasingly often in rent-to-buy laptops and cars financed by subprime loans. In a 2012 case the Federal Trade Commission settled with seven computer rental companies over their use of DesignerWare's Detective Mode, an add-on to PC Rental Agent, which was installed by 1,617 rent-to-own stores on 420,000 computers around the world. Detective Mode required users to register with their address, phone number, and email address, information that stores could use later to collect if renters fell behind on their payments. In addition, Detective Mode captured keystrokes, screenshots, and webcam pictures of unsuspecting users via these computers. 

By 2014, lenders were including kill switches, also known as starter interrupt devices, in cars financed by subprime loans and reporting that these reduced late payments to about 7% from 29%. However, these devices also enable detailed tracking, so that when one woman in Austin, Texas drove to a shelter to get away from her abusive husband, the lender tracked her down via GPS and repossessed her car because she had driven outside the radius specified in the loan agreement. It is possible to draw a direct line from access control imposed by Digital Rights Management systems and the resulting loss of user control to the more invasive practices appearing in the physical world. In this case, technology is granting creditors greater power over debtors.

Writer: Sarah Jeong
Publication: The Atlantic
Publication date: 2016-04-15


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