Following the Metro recently highlighting the issue of undisclosed cameras being used by a small number of Airbnb hosts, we take a look at what the rules say, reports in the news of this happening, and what you can do to protect yourself.
Do Airbnb Hosts Have The Right To Film Guests?
You may be surprised to know that the answer to this question is yes, hosts do have the right to install surveillance devices in certain areas of their properties (which may result in guests being filmed) but this is heavily regulated and restricted for privacy reasons.
When/Where/Why/How Is It OK For Hosts To Film Guests?
The primary legitimate reason for hosts to install surveillance devices is for security purposes. They are not allowed to use them for any invasive or unethical purposes. Airbnb’s community standards, for example, emphasise respect for the privacy of guests and any violation of these standards can lead to the removal of the host from the platform.
Airbnb’s company rules say that monitoring devices (e.g. cameras), may be used, but only if they are in common spaces (such as living rooms, hallways, and kitchens) and then only if Airbnb hosts disclose them in their listings. In short, if a host has any kind of surveillance device, they must clearly mention it in their house rules or property listing so that guests are made aware of these devices before they book the property.
What About Local Laws?
It is also the case that although disclosed cameras in common spaces on a property may be OK by the company’s rules, Airbnb hosts must also adhere to local laws and regulations regarding surveillance. This can vary widely from place to place and, in some regions, recording audio without consent is illegal, whereas video might be permissible if disclosed.
Even though Airbnb rules are relatively clear, there appears to be anecdotal and news evidence that some Airbnb guests have discovered undisclosed surveillance devices in areas of Airbnb properties where they should not be installed. Examples that have made the news include:
– Back in 2019, it was reported that a couple staying for one night at an Airbnb property in Garden Grove, California discovered a camera hidden in a smoke detector directly above the bed.
– In July 2023, a Texas couple were widely reported to have filed a lawsuit against an Airbnb owner, claiming he had put up ‘hidden cameras’ in the Maryland property they had rented for 2 nights in August 2022. According to the Court documents of Kayelee Gates and Christian Capraro, the couple became suspicious after Capraro discovered multiple hidden cameras disguised as smoke detectors in the bedroom and bathroom.
– Last month, a man (calling himself Ian Timbrell) alleged in a post on X that he had found a camera tucked between two sofa cushions at his Aberystwyth Airbnb.
Wouldn’t It Be Better To Disallow Any Cameras Inside An Airbnb Rental Property?
Banning all cameras at Airbnb rental properties might initially seem like a straightforward solution to privacy concerns, yet there are important factors to consider around this. Some hosts may legitimately need to use common areas such as entrances, for security purposes (perhaps the property is in an area where crime has been a problem) and they need to deter theft and vandalism and provide evidence if a crime occurs. On the other hand, a complete ban on cameras would address the privacy concerns of guests, ensuring they feel comfortable and secure during their stay.
Airbnb’s current policy attempts to balance security and privacy by allowing cameras in certain areas while requiring full disclosure and banning them in private spaces like bedrooms and bathrooms. However, enforcing a complete ban on cameras would be very challenging, as hidden cameras are, by nature, difficult to detect and even if there was a ban, some owners may simply not comply. The Airbnb model is built on trust between hosts and guests, and clear communication and transparency about security measures, including camera usage, are crucial for maintaining this trust. While a total ban on cameras might seem like a simple solution to privacy concerns, it overlooks the legitimate security needs of hosts. A balanced approach with clear guidelines and strict enforcement might be more effective in protecting both guest privacy and host security.
How To Check
If you’re worried about possibly being filmed/recorded by hidden and undisclosed surveillance devices in a rented Airbnb property, here are some ways you can search the property and potentially reveal such devices:
– Inspect any gadgets. Check smoke detectors or alarm clocks as they are known as places to hide cameras. Examine any other tech that seems out of place. You may also want to check the shower head.
– Search for Lenses. For example, making sure the room is dark, use a torch (such as your phone’s torch) to spot reflective camera lenses in objects like decor or appliances.
– Use phone apps like Glint Finder for Android or Hidden Camera Detector for iOS to find hidden cameras.
– Check storage areas, e.g. examine drawers, vents, and any openings in walls/ceilings.
– Check mirrors. Many people worry about the two-way mirrors with cameras behind them. Ways to check include lifting any mirrors to see the wall behind, turning off the room light and then shining a torch into the mirror to see if an area behind is visible.
– Check for infrared lights (which can be used in movement-sensitive cameras). Again, this may be spotted by by using your phone’s camera in the dark, and then looking out for any small, purple, or pink lights that may be flashing or steady.
– Scan the property’s Wi-Fi network and smart home devices for unknown devices.
– Unplug the Airbnb property’s router. Stopping the Wi-Fi at source should disable surveillance devices and may reveal whether the owner is monitoring the property, e.g. it may prompt the host to ask about the router being unplugged.
– If you’re particularly concerned, buy and bring an RF signal detector with you. Widely available online, this is a device that can find any devices emitting Bluetooth or Wi-Fi signals, e.g. wireless surveillance cameras, tracking devices and power supplies.
What Does This Mean For Your Business?
The issue of undisclosed cameras in Airbnb properties raises important considerations for Airbnb as a company, its hosts, and travellers. For Airbnb, the challenge lies in upholding and enforcing privacy standards to maintain user trust. This could involve enhancing their policies, perhaps even investing in technology or an inspection process for better detection of undisclosed devices, and/or providing more reassuring information about the issue, thereby safeguarding guest security, ensuring host accountability, and helping to protect their brand reputation.
It should be said that most Airbnb hosts abide by the company’s rules but are caught in a delicate balancing act between providing security and respecting the privacy of their guests. Any misuse of surveillance devices can, of course, have serious legal consequences and potentially harm a host’s reputation and standing on the platform. However, even just a few stories in the news about the actions on one or two hosts can have a much wider negative effect on consumer trust in Airbnb and can be damaging for all hosts. It could even simply deter people from using the platform altogether.
For some travellers, this situation may make them feel they must proactively take the responsibility for their own privacy (which may not reflect so well on Airbnb). They may feel as though they need to be informed about their rights, familiarise themselves with detection methods and remain vigilant during their stays.
This whole scenario emphasises the need for a continuous update of policies and practices by Airbnb to keep pace with technological advancements and the varying legal frameworks in different regions. It also highlights the importance of clear communication and transparency between the company, its hosts, and guests to maintain a trustworthy and secure environment.