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When you notice a hidden camera in your Airbnb

April 9, 2019 Headline News No Comments Email Email


Hidden surveillance cameras are so small you may not notice them at all, but a couple of recent cases indicate what happens when travellers detect such devices while staying at Airbnb properties.

In New Zealand, a woman has related an incident that happened when she was travelling through Europe last month with her husband, four children and niece. They had checked into an Airbnb property in Cork, Ireland.

As the New Zealand Herald related, when the family checked into their Irish homestay, Nealie Barker’s husband Andrew Barker, an IT consultant, connected his mobile phone to the house Wi-Fi and noticed a network listed as: “IP Camera”.

The site turned out to provide a live video feed of the living room, recorded from a camera hidden inside a smoke alarm.

Nealie Barker described how “it felt like a huge invasion of our privacy”.

The Airbnb host, when confronted by the family, first denied knowledge of the camera and was then evasive about it – leading the family to depart and seek emergency accommodation elsewhere at short notice.

Later, when she complained to Airbnb, Nealie says the platform “didn’t seem to grasp the seriousness of the situation”.

Nealie is now lobbying for Airbnb to enforce a “very clear” no-tolerance policy on hidden cameras.

In a statement to the New Zealand Herald, an Airbnb spokesman said the company’s “original handling of this incident did not meet the high standards we set for ourselves”. Airbnb policies strictly prohibited hidden cameras in listings and took reports of violations extremely seriously

The Barkers would receive a full refund and an apology, the spokesperson said, adding that the situation was “incredibly rare”.

Mini-camera

Rare perhaps, but the incident sounds similar to one earlier this year in which Jeffrey Bigham, a computer science professor at a US university, rented an Airbnb with his family and noticed two white objects in the US rental property’s lounge room. He realised one of the objects was a security camera. See: Can cameras legally peek at guests staying at an Airbnb?

Bigham also said Airbnb failed initially to treat the incident with the seriousness it deserved.

Airbnb later made a U-turn on the issue, apologised to Bigham and gave him a refund. US news site Fast Company reported that an Airbnb spokesperson in the US provided the following statement:

Our community’s privacy and safety is our priority, and our original handling of this incident did not meet the high standards we set for ourselves. We have apologized to Mr. Bigham and fully refunded him for his stay. We require hosts to clearly disclose any security cameras in writing on their listings and we have strict standards governing surveillance devices in listings.  This host has been removed from our community.

In a separate case in New Zealand last year, a former prison officer and Airbnb host who used miniature concealed cameras to film women in the shower at his homestay in the tourist city of Hastings was sent to prison for four years and four months – as well as being permanently banned from Airbnb. He uploaded the footage to a porn site. See: Shampoo peeping Airbnb host peers through prison bars

New tiny cameras can either record video to a card, or live-stream it. Their presence is hard to detect. Experts suggest turning off all the lights in a room after dark and shining a beam of light (such as from a torch or mobile phone) at any likely hiding places (smoke detectors etc) to reveal the gleam of a lens.

 

Written by Peter Needham



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