It’s something we rarely give a second thought to, but what is stopping someone from putting a hidden camera in your Airbnb rental? The truth is … not much. Airbnb’s rules say a host must disclose the presence of cameras in their “House Rules,” and the host must also disclose if there’s active recording going on. Airbnb completely prohibits cameras in private areas like bathrooms and bedrooms. However, this hasn’t completely stopped hosts from recording guests without their knowledge.
So, it’s essential that you know how to spot hidden cameras, so you can keep yourself safe and ensure your private moments stay just that: Private.
Look for any gadgets that don’t look normal
A Toronto couple found a hidden camera in their Airbnb because they noticed something was off about an alarm clock in their room. It was connected to a wire that looked like a phone charger, which didn’t seem quite right. This prompted the couple to investigate further. Smoke detectors are another known hiding place for cameras. Check to see if the smoke detector looks abnormal in any way.
If you notice something looks different about a tech device in your room, check out the device and remove the battery backing. For instance, maybe you see the gadget has a different charger, a camera hole, a different type of battery, or a light that doesn’t belong. If you see any sketchy-looking tech, you can also search the brand and model number online to see if you’re dealing with a hidden camera gadget.
Cameras have also been found in smoke alarms and other electronic devices in Airbnb rentals. You can look for additional suspicious signs, like two smoke detectors near the same spot, or devices placed in weird locations. Some people also choose to simply cover or unplug devices like alarm clocks, which are common places to conceal cameras and not really necessary when you have your phone with you.
Search for a camera lens
Hidden cameras come inside of small objects like pens, motion detectors, Bluetooth speakers, and necklaces. There are also tiny, stand-alone cameras that are 1-inch or smaller, which people can hide in normal decor like lampshades, picture frames, house plants, and blinds. Look for any holes where someone could have placed a tiny camera. Also, turn off all the lights in the space and then shine a flashlight around the area to search for a camera lens. The lens should reflect the light, which should make it easier to spot.
Of course, when every opening is a potential spot for a hidden camera (and in an unfamiliar environment), looking for lens glinting can be difficult. Fortunately, there are apps that can help with this. For Android, you can try the Glint Finder, which uses a camera flash to locate lens reflections. For iOS, there’s the Hidden Camera Detector app, which can not only seek out lenses but also help you monitor Wi-Fi.
Check drawers, cabinets, and openings
Sometimes, people hide recording devices in storage spaces. One Airbnb guest claims they found a cell phone recording in the bathroom under the sink, for example. Examine areas like bookshelves, dressers, and closets, especially if those areas could hide a device that could record in a private area like your bedroom or bathroom. Bathroom fans, vents and other openings in the wall or ceiling are favorite spots for people to hide cameras.
Use a scanner
If you are really hellbent on preventing hidden devices from invading your privacy, you can invest in a hidden device detector. Cameras that use Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to send or receive data will emit an RF signal. You can purchase an RF signal detector to pick up those signals and then locate a hidden camera. This, for instance, can find mini hidden cameras and other types of bugs and recording devices.
You can buy other detectors for anywhere between $20 and upward of $300. It just depends on the features and quality you’re looking for in a device scanner. No RF device is going to find hidden cameras 100% of the time though. If a camera is recording but not sending the data out, an RF detector will not pick up on the camera.
You can also install certain apps on your phone that can scan for hidden cameras. These apps, like Hidden Camera Detector, may not be as accurate as an RF scanner, but for under $5 you can give them a try. Some of these apps may even be free.
In addition to scanning for a camera using an RF scanner or an app, you can also scan the Wi-Fi network for any cameras that are connected to the internet. Apps like Fing or iNet let you know what devices are connected to a network. Sometimes hidden cameras are hard-wired, with the wiring hidden behind walls, which means that scanners and apps like these may not be able to detect them at all, but this is relatively rare.
Unplug the Airbnb router
There’s another simple way to help uncover any spying attempts. Many Airbnb spaces have their own router for guests. Find the router at your location, and unplug it (you can do this as you are heading out for the day so you don’t lose Wi-Fi when you need it). Security experts have found that this little trick works well for uncovering any spy attempts. If you don’t hear anything from your host, everything is probably fine. However, if your host soon contacts you to ask what’s wrong with the router, you know that they are monitoring it for some reason. Unless they have a good explanation for why, this is an indicator that you’re being spied on.
Again, there are ways around this, like using a separate router or hard-wiring the camera. But it’s a very effective method for how little effort it takes.
What to do if you find a hidden camera
If your search for recording devices in your rental comes back positive, there are a few steps to take right away. Contact the local police so they can investigate. Also, contact Airbnb and report the incident.
Putting a surveillance device on someone in an area like the bedroom or bathroom is against Airbnb’s rules, and Airbnb requires all hosts to disclose any cameras on the property, including outward-facing security cams, etc. While privacy laws can vary a little from state to state, it’s usually illegal to put up hidden cameras in these areas as well, and some states are working on stiffer laws precisely because of Airbnb problems. In New York, for example, a homeowner has a right to put up hidden cameras in their dwelling, since it’s their property. However, privacy laws do prevent recording when there is an “expectation of privacy.” This is similar across all states.
Expectation of privacy is, intentionally, a broad term, but applies to things like bathrooms, bedrooms, and generally places that aren’t very public — including parts of your home you are renting out. Trespassing, spying, and stalking charges may apply, and penalties tend to be harsher now than they have been in the past.
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