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Use Airbnb? Watch Out For Hidden Cameras

by SharonKurheg

If you’ve ever used or considered using Airbnb, these are not the headlines you want to see:

Couple Uncovers Hidden Cameras In Nightmare Airbnb: Police (Huffington Post, 10/11/17)
People Keep Finding Hidden Cameras In Their Airbnbs (NY Post, 12/4/17)
Couple Visiting Toronto Says They Found A Hidden Camera In Their Airbnb Rental (CBC, 9/11/18)
Spy Cameras Are Popping Up In Airbnb Rentals (ABC Action News, 11/15/18)
Airbnb Refunds Guest Who Found Indoor Cameras During His Family’s Stay
(Washington Post, 1/17/19)

So what’s up with that???

Well, according to Airbnb, all members of the Airbnb community, both hosts and guests, are supposed to respect each other’s privacy. Hosts are required to disclose all surveillance devices in their listings and surveillance devices in certain spaces (i.e. bathrooms and bedrooms) are prohibited.

Unfortunately, it seems that this rule is not always being followed…

  • A couple discovered 2 small surveillance units hidden in the smoke detectors in the bedroom and living room of the Airbnb unit they were using in Longboat Key, FL.
  • A woman and her friend staying at an Airbnb in Switzerland discovered a cellphone under the sink in the bathroom and an iPad elsewhere in the unit, both recording them.
  • A woman found a recording device that looked like a charger adapter in her Airbnb unit in New York City. It was plugged into a bathroom outlet.
  • Activist and filmmaker Jason Scott tweeted that his colleague found a camera disguised in a motion detector at an Airbnb.

Airbnb says that reports of hidden cameras are “incredibly rare” and they do ban any host who is reported to be electronically monitoring guests without their knowledge. Of course, that’s only if they’re caught.

Meanwhile, experts say there are a few things consumers can do to protect themselves: invest in a digital device detector, search rooms carefully for small holes or recording devices on inanimate objects and use a flash light to try and spot lenses, especially in places that would get a good view of rooms. This page of the Independent U.K. and this article in Newsweek both have some other thoughts of how to discover hidden cameras and recording devices.

Personally, as someone who never felt super comfortable about staying in a stranger’s house (I’ve only used Airbnb once, when we needed to be in Miami for an early flight to Cuba), it’s just one more reason to stick to hotels (which isn’t to say that hotels can’t have recording devices hidden somewhere too, but for some reason I still feel safer there). As always, of course, Your Mileage May Vary. But as they used to say on Hill Street Blues, “Let’s be careful out there.”

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