Hidden cameras? In Airbnb rooms!? Whoa!
Better go stay in a REAL hotel, Twitterers exclaimed, in response to the news that a guest had found a carefully disguised video camera, connected to the internet, installed by his hosts in the bedroom, to stream out to any and all in gleeful HD glory.
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
Unfortunately, it’s not a thing “now.” It’s been a thing for some time. And no, staying at a “real” hotel – i.e, one that charges 10x as much as an Airbnb – will not protect us from being filmed as we bop around in our birthday suits, talk about our financial situation, or roll around in high-quality sheets.
Undisclosed electronic surveillance is verboten per Airbnb rules. It’s also completely verboten in “private” spaces, such as bedrooms and bathrooms, even if a host does disclose it.
The rules apply to hosts spying on guests as well as guests spying on hosts, be it through nanny cams, cams hidden in smoke alarms, cams tucked into USB power plugs, cams hiding in lightbulbs, cams hanging out in alarm clocks, in wall clocks, in hooks to hang your clothes (for those who get turned on by viewing garment labels…?), in Teddy bears, in air fresheners, in picture frames, in wall outlets, and, good Lord, where can’t they put these things?
Recent stories of breaking Airbnb’s “no spying” rules include that of the Airbnb host in Florida who said Hey, no, no, I installed that webcam in the bedroom and pointed it at the bed to record sex parties with the consent of those involved. He turned the cameras off when his apartment was being rented out, he claimed.
Is that so?! Well, surprise, surprise: when police seized two smoke detectors with hidden cameras, computers, SD cards and anything else that could store data, they found footage of Airbnb guests.
Multiple victims have come forth. The host, Wayne Natt, is now facing felony charges of video voyeurism.
And no, you’re not safe from hidden webcams – or from non-hidden webcams that have been hacked, for that matter – if you opt for a hotel room over an Airbnb listing. Hotel owners have also been found guilty of setting up live links to record people having sex.
You can see why Airbnb hosts would want to record guests: they don’t want their places trashed, and they don’t want their stuff stolen. There are ways to avoid getting ripped off on Airbnb from a cyber perspective, but hidden surveillance cameras are a whole other kettle of fish.
Even if hosts use a hidden surveillance camera merely to make sure their home and possessions aren’t trashed, with no intention of nefariously capturing nude images or intercepting private information about their guests, the setup of a hidden surveillance camera, the presence of which was allegedly undisclosed, was still an egregious breach of privacy.
Even if the hosts hadn’t planned to sell or post naked images, that doesn’t mean that an intruder couldn’t hack a webcam and do it in their stead.
How to detect a hidden webcam
Derek Starnes, who works in tech and who detected the smoke detector hidden webcam in the Florida Airbnb rental, told WFTS that he spotted a small black hole on the alarm and became curious. Poking around, he found a camera and microphone had been hidden inside the smoke detector. He immediately alerted police.
Another Airbnb guest checked out a sensor:
Currently in our Airbnb checking out this “sensor”. pic.twitter.com/baqZgawIYJ
— Cam Mysterio. (@CamilleBWright) November 28, 2017
…a device which, a Twitter commenter opined, was actually an alarm motion detector that would, likely, silently call the police if somebody tampered with the switch. Oops!
LOL that’s a motion detector for an alarm, and the tiny white finger on the back is a tamper switch which (with ADT anyway) silently calls the police even if you’re home!
— jerkey waters (@jerquee) November 28, 2017
So, how do you spot these spying devices, other than noticing curious little holes? Particularly given that some of them, including Nest Dropcam, can be hiding behind furnishings, decorations or vents?
Well, for a camera to see you, it needs a line of sight, and that means that you can see it. So visually inspect vents for holes or gaps – you could even look for a lens reflection by turning off the lights and scanning the room with a flashlight.
If you’re feeling flush, you could pick up a gizmo for finding cameras (they can get pricey), or if you’re technical you could use Nmap or similar to see what gadgets are using the Wi-Fi (although, of course, your host/peeping Tom might have a separate network for spying purposes, or might have a hard-wired surveillance device).
What to do if you detect an undisclosed camera
- Take photos of the device for evidence
- Take photos of your accommodation so you can prove that you haven’t trashed the place: some hosts have reportedly made such false accusations.
- Get your clothes on and get out of there
- Report it to police. You want to stop that stream before other people get swept up in it.
- If you’re in an Airbnb rental, report it to Airbnb, along with your evidence, before it happens to another victim.