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My small high street laptop repair/service/maintenance shop has been up and running for about 3 years. It's doing quite well so I'm looking to expand into other areas of the PC market.

One area I have decided to invest into is the loan of laptops to customers for a fixed monthly fee.

I want to be able to connect to it if the user is having any issues and to check whether there is anything illegal taking place on that laptop. (All RD connections are consented to under the contract for the loan)

I want to install something like RealVNC or similar onto each laptop as the client for the Remote Desktop. But obviously I need to stop each user from modifying the client software. This is where I'm having problems.

I'm not sure which software to use. RealVNC would cost me over £1000 for the licenses and I don't have that kind of money to pump into it at the moment. Is there any free or cheaper alternatives which will give me this security control over the laptop?

The laptops are all running windows XP/Vista/7.

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I'm not sure how your users would feel about allowing you to freely access a back-door to their computer 24x7. Have you considered something like join.me which would be user-initiated? If the user is "having any issues" they'll presumably be calling to have you take a look at it anyway. –  Iszi Oct 18 '11 at 3:56
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In which country are you? I am pretty sure that this is illegal without explicit user consent in many jurisdictions, if it is permitted to use those computers for non work related things. In other words: I think the section in the contract is void. So you should get legal advice first before investing into technology. –  Hendrik Brummermann Oct 18 '11 at 8:18
    
As i said, in the contract the connections are Consented to for the loan. –  Dr.Pepper Oct 18 '11 at 11:35
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@user977229 - Just because something is in a contract does not make it lawful. Certain a Rent to Own had a problem with software they used to do something like this, and it was a huge scandal, granted they never removed the software AFTER the final payment was paid. The point why do you care what happens on the laptop, provided you make them responsible for ALL actions in your contract, one could easily pull out a hdd. –  Ramhound Oct 18 '11 at 12:49
    
sounds like a shopping question; but the legal/liability/ethical part is the most interesting. –  makerofthings7 Jul 7 '13 at 14:17

3 Answers 3

Computers are so magic, that they seem disconnected from all social conventions and mundane realities. But that's just a "mirage". Let's translate your question by making just a small change: assume that you want to loan houses instead of laptops. Your question then becomes:

I want to be able to enter the houses, to see if the tenant has any issue, or to monitor whether anything illegal takes place in that house. I keep a copy of the door keys; what kind of baseball bat should I bring when I am investigating the houses ?

There are laws against that. It is not your job to enforce law and order within the houses or laptops you loan; and (good thing for you) you are not responsible for it either. So do not do it. You cannot be blamed for whatever a user will do with a laptop -- unless you are announcing that you will play the cop, in which case you may be considered an accomplice.

You might get away with a system where you can connect to the laptops only on explicit invitation from the user, for the unique purpose of system administration; this would be a kind of service. For that, you may want to have a look at TightVNC, which is free.

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In addition to @Tom and @symcbean's comments, also be aware that if you implement a tool for remote monitoring and it is accessed by a malicious third party, you could be held responsible!

Seriously not a good idea.

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If you have no liability for what the users do with the laptop, then what is the benefit to you of monitoring the usage. In the absence of any legitimate benefit, that would leave anyone questioning your motives in doing so - so you would create liability by doing this.

There are a lot of other security concerns you should be concerned about - primarily ensuring that you shred the hard disk on return and reinstall (which is a lot simpler if you use imaging). There are also tools which will help you recover a stolen laptop.

Spying on your users is downright dangerous.

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Like I brought up there was a certain "Rent to Own" company that installed similar software ( I believe it was able to control a camera on the computer ). What basically happen was that people who paid their contracts in full, months later discovered that software that was suppose to be removed when the contract was paid in full, was left running. They were well within their right to have the software on the computers that were being rented, to what degree though, the fact of throwing egg in your own face? –  Ramhound Oct 18 '11 at 18:43

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