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Hidden Cameras in Airbnbs: Too Much Sharing?

HIDDEN CAMERAS: SECURITY OR INVASION OF PRIVACY?

You’ve arrived at your vacation destination after a long day of travel, and have just settled into your Airbnb. The two bedroom, two bathroom rental is clean and appears to match the advertisement that you booked, but something just doesn’t feel right. For starters, why are there two smoke detectors in the bedroom…right over the bed? Is one a carbon monoxide detector? You decide to take a closer look and discover that one is actually a hidden camera.

You disconnect the camera and take the memory card, but have no way of knowing if the host was observing you remotely, and whether or not any footage was already uploaded to the internet. What about other cameras on the property? You immediately report the incident and the host to Airbnb’s Safety Team and the police. Airbnb refunds your money, pays for a hotel, and after an investigation, removes the host from its site.

The police are not convinced that you are a victim of a crime, however. Once again, the tension between the sharing economy and local laws comes in to play. The police tell you that the property owner had the right to have cameras in his own home, and it is not their job to enforce Airbnb’s rules and policies. In point of fact, you stole his memory card and dismantled his property; therefore the property owner may be the victim of a crime.

THE RULES

While Airbnb policy allows cameras in outdoor areas, common areas, and living rooms, cameras are forbidden in sleeping areas and bathrooms. Furthermore, the location of cameras must be disclosed by a host prior to booking, and a guest must agree to being filmed. If cameras are not disclosed, or are found in forbidden areas, guests can have their money refunded, are entitled to alternative lodging, and a host can be stricken from Airbnb’s site.

THE LAW

Furthermore, the fact that a property owner is “king of his castle” so to speak, and can put cameras in his own home, does not mean that he/she is entitled to film an invited guest surreptitiously. Just because you enter someone’s home does not mean you surrender all right to privacy; this is all the more true when you enter as an invitee.

THE CREEPY FACTOR

Acknowledgement of this fact has led to a broader discussion of whether hidden cameras should be allowed in Airbnbs at all. Hosts argue that they need cameras for security purposes, to prevent guests from trashing their property and as evidence if such vandalism has occurred. Hosts argue that they have a right to monitor perfect strangers in their homes, that there is a “creepy” factor that necessitates surveillance.

Yet, guests argue that the surveillance is the creepy factor. In a society where surveillance has become ubiquitous, with cameras in doorbells, streetlights, and on just about every public building, people do not want cameras in their vacation rentals. They particularly don’t want hidden cameras in the private areas of those rentals. The glow of the sharing economy has started to fade as a backlash grows against the societal loss of privacy.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Technology websites Digital Trends and Lifehacker publish how-to guides on ways to find hidden cameras in Airbnbs. Below are some steps you can take gathered from other websites to detect the presence of cameras in your rental:

1. Turn off all lights and shine a flashlight around the area (possibly use the flashlight on your smartphone) to search for a camera lens. Alarm clocks, smoke detectors and similar devices are common places for cameras to be hidden.

2. Download a phone app that scans for hidden cameras. There is also a growing anti-camera technology market of devices that help detect hidden cameras, depending on how much time and money you want to invest.

3. If you find a device or something you think is a camera, take a photo of it, disconnect it, and possibly keep it or the memory card as evidence.

4. Take photos of the rental as proof that you did not vandalize the property or harm it in any way.

5. Call Airbnb’s Safety Team to report the host, get a refund, and to secure alternative lodging.

6. Call the police—first if you feel you are in any danger—to report the surveillance.

7. Leave.

CONTACT YOUR ATTORNEY

If you or someone you know has suffered an invasion of privacy or has undergone surveillance without consent, contact Dave Thomas at The Thomas Law Firm for a free consultation regarding your legal rights.

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