Airbnb says sorry to guest for how it dealt with undisclosed security camera

Be honest. When you first enter your Airbnb apartment, do you quickly search the place for surveillance cameras?

We’ve learned of a number of stories over the last few years where Airbnb guests have found cameras in their rental apartment. The device might be there to check you don’t trash the place, or possibly for a more sinister purpose. Either way, the presence of a camera leaves many guests feeling distinctly uncomfortable.

In its terms, Airbnb requires hosts to disclose all surveillance devices in their listings, and prohibits devices that observe “the interior of certain private spaces (such as bedrooms and bathrooms) regardless of whether they’ve been disclosed.”

Airbnb guest Jeffrey Bigham recently had a run-in with the apartment rental company after he found not one but two cameras at a place he was staying at.

“I was shocked, and immediately unplugged them,” Bigham, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, wrote in a blog post describing his experience.

After looking at the apartment listing again, he saw that the cameras were mentioned but were described as being “at the entrance.” But this wasn’t the case, as one of them was located in the living room. You could actually see it in a photo in the apartment’s listing, but the camera’s small size made it hard to notice.

To his disappointment, when he contacted Airbnb to complain, the company said the photo showing the living-room device sufficed as proper disclosure of both cameras.

“I’m not sure what to take from this, but it’s scary,” Bigham wrote in his post. “There have been super terrible examples of privacy violations by Airbnb hosts, e.g., people have found cameras hidden in alarm clocks in their bedrooms. I feel like our experience is in some ways more insidious. If you find a truly hidden camera in your bedroom or bathroom, Airbnb will support you. If you find an undisclosed camera in the private living room, Airbnb will not support you.”

The professor said that if he ever stays at an Airbnb again, “I guess I’ll be taking a much closer look at all the photos, or maybe just explicitly ask my host to confirm there are no cameras inside the home.”

Airbnb told Digital Trends in a 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,” adding that it had apologized to Bigham and given him a full refund 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,” the company said.

The host has since been removed from Airbnb’s community.

Airbnb told Digital Trends that cameras or other surveillance devices are not allowed in a listing “unless they are both previously disclosed and visible,” adding that photos of such devices do not count as sufficient disclosure. It said that such devices are “never permitted in private spaces of the listing, such as bathrooms, bedrooms, or other sleeping areas.”

Rest assured, most Airbnb hosts are decent and sensible folks and have no wish to stick a camera in their properties, whether hidden or not. Still, if you’re staying at a rental apartment and are worried about concealed cameras, Digital Trends has some great tips on how to quickly sweep the place at the start of your stay.

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