A man who works for Internet Archive posted a tweet of a secret recording device found at his colleague’s Airbnb rental. The tweet went viral.
Photos posted to Twitter on Nov. 27 of the covert camera, designed to look like a motion detector, have received over 33,000 likes and over 23,000 retweets. The post even caught the attention of AirBnB that requested contact information for the man’s colleague.
In "oh, that's a thing now" news, a colleague of mine thought it odd that there was a single "motion detector" in his AirBNB in the bedroom and voila, it's an IP camera connected to the web. (He left at 3am, reported, host is suspended, colleague got refund.) pic.twitter.com/6KgkDmEZXB
— Jason Scott (@textfiles) November 28, 2017
Hi Jason, we'd like to follow up on this. Can you DM us the email address associated with your colleague's account? Thank you.
— Airbnb Help (@AirbnbHelp) November 28, 2017
Judging from the photos, the biggest clue that this is a camera and not a motion detector is probably the writing on the back that reads “720P COLOR IP CAMERA,” visible on a label once it was removed from its wall socket.
It isn’t the first incident of Airbnb guests finding hidden cameras recording them. According to WFLA, a couple staying at a Florida Airbnb rental found a hidden camera disguised as a smoke detector located above the bed he and his wife slept in.
The man opened the smoke detector and found a video camera and microphone inside. The couple noticed a similar smoke detector in the living room. The owner of the property has since been arrested. Local police believe there are more people who were unknowingly recorded while staying at the man’s property.
Airbnb issued a statement via WFLA upon learning the news:
“We are outraged at the reports of what happened; as soon as we were made aware, we permanently banned this individual from our community and fully supported the affected guests. Our team has reached out to local law enforcement to aid them with their investigation of this egregious offense and we hope justice is served. We take privacy issues extremely seriously and have a zero-tolerance policy against this behavior.”
But some guests said Airbnb was not as responsive to their reports of covert recording. A woman who stayed at an AirBnB rental in Houston told Buzzfeed her account of AirBnB chiding her to “respond professionally” after she pointed out that the host admitted to using a hidden camera. She said she didn’t think much of the situation until the host accused her of trashing the place.
Nightmare @Airbnb experience this weekend: place was super trashy, found a hidden camera in bedroom (!) Cont..
— Erin Donovan (@goodyerin) May 1, 2017
And Airbnb wouldn't do anything about it because he accused me of trashing the place (I unplugged the cameras) https://t.co/MoOfG9cNnP
— Erin Donovan (@goodyerin) November 28, 2017
Erin, the woman who described the ordeal, said AirBnB representatives treated her as if she was trying to find an excuse not to pay for her stay. Only after she complained about the incident openly via Twitter did AirBnB conduct a proper investigation, according to her Buzzfeed interview. She was eventually offered a full refund.
According to an Observer article, Airbnb didn’t have an official policy on recording guests until the Observer pointed it out to the company in 2014.
The current surveillance policy listed in Airbnb’s help section reads, in part:
“Our standards and expectations require that all members of the Airbnb community respect each other’s privacy. More specifically, we require hosts to disclose all surveillance devices in their listings, and we prohibit any surveillance devices in certain private spaces (such as bedrooms and bathrooms) regardless of whether they’ve been disclosed.
“If you’re a host and you have any type of surveillance device in or around a listing, even if it’s not turned on or hooked up, we require that you let guests know by including this information clearly in your listing description and photographs. If a host discloses the device after booking, Airbnb will allow the guest to cancel the reservation and receive a refund. Host cancellation penalties may apply.”
It goes on to discuss the consequences.
“Violating this policy may result in your suspension or removal from the Airbnb community. In addition, you should ensure that your use of surveillance equipment is consistent with applicable local laws and regulations.”
Airbnb also described what it considered surveillance recording devices.
“Any mechanism that can be used to capture or transmit audio, video, or still images is considered a surveillance device. This includes but is not limited to things like Wi-Fi cameras (e.g. Nest Cam or Dropcam), nanny cameras, web cameras in computer monitors, baby monitors, mounted or installed surveillance systems, and smartphones with video and/or audio recording capabilities.”