Stories about holidaymakers finding hidden cameras in their rental properties have raised concerns about the safety of staying in a stranger's home. Although the idea that someone could invade our privacy in such a manner is troubling, there are ways to spot hidden cameras and safeguard ourselves against intrusion.
A British couple claimed they found a hidden camera in a digital clock in the bedroom of their Airbnb rental in Toronto. Earlier this month, holidaymaker Dougie Hamilton told the Daily Record: “we were only in the place for 20 minutes when I noticed the clock. There was just something in my head that made me feel a bit uneasy." Mr Hamilton and his partner filed a complaint with Airbnb. A spokesperson for the company told Lonely Planet: "we take privacy issues extremely seriously and have a zero tolerance policy for this behaviour. We have removed the host from the platform while we investigate and are providing the guest with our full support."
Last October, ABC Action News reported that a couple staying in a Florida Airbnb noticed something odd about a smoke detector above the bed. Upon inspection, it turned out to be a hidden camera paired to an SD card. These stories highlight fears holidaymakers have about staying in someone else's home. While Airbnb hosts have the right to use surveillance devices to protect their property, they must fully disclose whether there are security cameras or other surveillance equipment at or around the listing and get consent where required. Cameras are never allowed in bathrooms or bedrooms.
"It's easier - and more affordable - than ever before to up your home security game. Everything from cameras to sensors can pair to your phone," Newstalk's tech correspondent Jess Kelly told Lonely Planet News. She said that while this type of technology can offer peace of mind to those who are renting their homes out, it can raise eyebrows with the guests who are staying in their property.
"If you are using something like Airbnb, there's no harm in asking the owner if there are any smart-home solutions you should be aware of," said Ms Kelly. "This covers everything from a Google Home to a James Bond-style security system that could be triggered. If CCTV of any nature is in place on a property, it should be well flagged. You have the right to ask how and where the information captured on the camera is being stored and even request to view it, if you so wished. It would be nice to think that you never have to worry about hidden cameras when staying in an Airbnb, however, I still find myself looking on bookshelves and above curtain rails every time. The big giveaway tends to be a red, blue or green light. Some cameras are motion-sensored, so keep an eye out for a light that just suddenly appears as you walk the room."
She added: "there are companies who will offer MI5 style technology to help scan a room for technology or bugging devices, but life is too short for that. If you feel you are being watched, report and get out of [the situation]."
Airbnb takes privacy concerns seriously. You can find out more about the company's rules on electronic surveillance devices in their listings here.