Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 23 August 2019

Should you be hunting for hidden cameras when you stay in an Airbnb?

Privacy issues are in the spotlight after a family found a hidden camera in their Airbnb accommodation

Airbnb has been criticised for its slow response to reports of hidden cameras discovered in an airbnb in Cork, Ireland. Bloomberg
Airbnb has been criticised for its slow response to reports of hidden cameras discovered in an airbnb in Cork, Ireland. Bloomberg

Since it launched in 2008, Airbnb has changed the way many people take trips. Offering unique lodgings, local experience or places to stay in destinations that were previously underserviced by hotels, the platform has opened up a whole new sector of travel.

But it's not all positive. Recently, a family from Auckland discovered a hidden camera in the Cork house that they were renting through the accommodation provider.

Last month, when the Barker family checked into their Airbnb in the south of Ireland, a stop on their European round-trip, they were unaware they were being watched.

Settling in for a three-night stay, the family began connecting devices to the property Wi-Fi. It was then that father Andrew Barker – an IT consultant – noticed a device listed as IP camera on his phone. Scanning the device’s ports, he found a live video feed, reported New Zealand’s Stuff.

The family left to find alternative accommodation and reported the incident to Airbnb. Initially, they were told that if they cancelled the booking within 14 days of their stay date they would receive no refund. Follow ups resulted in a full refund being issued by the accommodation platform which also launched an investigation into the Airbnb host who was renting the house.

Criticism has since been levied at the online accommodation for portal for its slow response. On her Facebook page, Nealie Barker, the mother of the family, said she had been contacted by several guests who told her they had been allowed to stay at the same property while the investigation was ongoing, and that Airbnb had failed to inform them about the incident.

The accommodation was live on Airbnb’s booking platform for over a month after the initial complaint was launched and hosted at least 10 other guests.

In a statement on Saturday, Airbnb said: “The safety and privacy of our community is our priority. We have removed the host from our platform.” The property has since been removed from the platform.

Privacy concerns

Current regulations on the website require hosts to disclose any cameras on the property to guests prior to their stay. It also determines that cameras are never allowed to be placed in bathrooms or bedrooms. However, without site inspections it’s a policy that’s difficult to enforce. And it’s not the first time the booking platform has come under fire regarding hidden cameras.

In 2018, a 22-year-old student from the US found a mobile phone in a sink in the bathroom of her Airbnb in Switzerland. It was set to record. She later found an iPad that was also recording.

Another incident the same year saw a German tourist find a hidden remote-controlled camera at an Airbnb in Florida.

With over 150 million guests using Airbnb every year and the accommodation platform having a presence in over 81,000 cities in the world, it’s suffice to say that the surveillance problem has only been experienced by a minority of guests.

However, those checking into private rented accommodation can spend a few minutes ensuring their privacy. Searching for cameras in places beyond the obvious – such as in furniture or inside lights – is good practice and there are also a handful of hidden camera detector apps available for smartphones that can identify any unfamiliar devices. If such a search does reveal anything, in addition to informing Airbnb, guests can also report the incident to local police authorities.

Updated: April 7, 2019 10:25 AM