Airbnb is an American online marketplace and hospitality service brokerage company based in San Francisco. Guests and hosts can use the service to arrange or offer lodging, primarily homestays, or tourism experiences. Keep in mind that when you are staying in an Airbnb, no matter how good the ratings are or how nice the house is, you are staying in a complete stranger’s house. And when have we ever been taught to trust strangers?
Airbnb’s rules allow surveillance cameras outdoors and in living rooms and other common areas, but never in bathrooms or anywhere guests plan to sleep, including rooms with foldout beds.
Of course, hosts have ample reason to train cameras on the homes they rent out to strangers. Unfortunately, some hosts have more malevolent intentions for what they would like to do with the footage captured in their Airbnbs. Guests have even spotted hidden cameras in alarm clocks and other similar devices in their sleeping areas.
Reasons why hosts have cameras in their Airbnbs
- To detect possible theft from the property
- To obtain evidence should guests neglect the host’s property
- To expose guests who make bookings under false pretences, such as claiming to be travelling alone while bringing extra guests onto the property
What to expect if there are cameras in your Airbnb:
From the reasons mentioned above, it is easy to see why hosts would want to keep an eye on the individuals they are letting into their property. Fortunately, Airbnb does NOT allow hosts to have cameras in bedrooms or in bathrooms or even facing in these directions.
If a host has surveillance cameras in their Airbnb, guests should receive a pop-up message on the Airbnb app informing them of:
- Where the cameras are located
- Where the cameras are aimed
To book the property, the guest must click “agree,” indicating that they’re aware of the cameras and consent to being filmed. Unfortunately, some hosts have their own agenda which can involve non-ethical reasons for recording those that stay on their property. These hosts are the ones that do not mention that they have camera surveillance.
Rather be safe than sorry and watch out for these red flags.
Red flags and precautions to take in an Airbnb:
- If you don’t receive a pop-up notification on the app regarding surveillance cameras, you are entitled to ask the host if there are any surveillance cameras on the premises.
- It would be best to question the host through written communication, such as an email or via WhatsApp, so that there is evidence of the host’s response.
- Whether you stay at the Airbnb for one night or many nights, every night, as soon as it gets dark, switch off all the lights and see if you can see any small still or flashing lights. It doesn’t necessarily have to be a red LED light for it to be a surveillance camera.
- If you realise that the host is using one name for sending emails and a different name down the line, consider this as a red flag. The host could be trying to falsify his/her identity so that the communication cannot be traced back to them directly.
What should you do if you come across hidden cameras in an Airbnb?
If you find a camera, or cameras, in the Airbnb that you are staying in there are two main people you need to phone:
- Airbnb’s safety team – explain your situation to them on this toll-free number: +1-855-424-7262.
- A family member or friend – let them know of your movements and send them your location.
If you find cameras that you were not made aware of, the quicker you can get out of the property, the better (you don’t know if the host has a live stream and has observed your discovery of the cameras).
To ensure mobility in such circumstances, unpack as little of your luggage as possible to save yourself time if you need to get away quickly.
In previous instances, where Airbnb guests have found undisclosed cameras in their rooms, the company refunded the traveller’s money, paid for a hotel room for the night, and removed hosts from the Airbnb website.
Unless you are a tech savvy person that knows a great deal about cameras it may not be easy to know what the camera is capable of. It might be difficult to establish whether the camera is recording, live-streaming, zooming, panning the room or tilting and changing angles.
The point of this post is simple: when you are staying anywhere that you are unfamiliar with, ensure that there are no surveillance cameras in areas that would make you feel uncomfortable, and if there are, that you have agreed to being recorded.
- Source: Fussell, S. (2019). Airbnb Has a Hidden-Camera Problem. [online] The Atlantic. Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2019/03/what-happens-when-you-find-cameras-your-airbnb/585007/ [Accessed 27 May 2019].
This is a general information sheet and should not be used or relied on as professional advice. No liability can be accepted for any errors or omissions nor for any loss or damage arising from reliance upon any information herein. Always contact your specialist for specific and detailed advice. (E&OE)