In recent years, some travelers have had bad experiences enjoying their vacations when meeting hidden surveillance cameras on compromised sites on the property they were staying at. Often these spy cameras are found in properties reserved through platforms such as Airbnb.
With the increasing supply of surveillance devices, prices have dropped significantly and this type of accessory has become an affordable product for the general public. In addition, the sophistication of these devices is increasing, managing to reduce their size to a point where they are almost imperceptible to the human eye.
It is understandable, therefore, that many people are concerned about the possibility of being watched by cameras in moments of intimacy. So much so, that this problem is increasingly discussed by guests on platforms such as Airbnb when they share their experiences on social networks. Many travelers are afraid of finding cameras in rooms as intimate as the bathroom or bedroom.
Are they watching us? Real (and known) cases involving spy cameras don’t seem to be especially common, but they do happen from time to time. Here are some examples from recent years:
- In 2017, internet activist Jason Scott tweeted a photo of an internet-connected surveillance camera hidden inside a burglar alarm motion detector.
- This camera was discovered by a colleague of the activist in an unidentified stay offered by the Airbnb platform.
- In 2018, a Glasgow traveler and his girlfriend found a hidden camera inside a digital alarm clock which pointed to the property’s bed, in an open-plan room. The guests alerted the Toronto police to the crime, since the host also had six other properties for rent.
- In 2019, a New Zealand IT security professional realized after scanning the Wi-Fi network of the Airbnb he was staying at in Cork, Ireland, that there was a hidden camera broadcasting live. The host was initially exonerated by the website, until the news went viral.
- In 2022, an Airbnb customer discovered a hidden camera located in the bathroom from the property after hearing a clicking sound while getting out of the shower with his girlfriend. Apparently, the device was set to take photos and transmit them to the host’s device when it detected movement in the room.
What does Airbnb say?
The company has taken much of the criticism for incidents with spy cameras. The controversy also comes from some reports in which it can be seen that the company took a long time to take its customers’ complaints seriously. Currently, Airbnb’s policy on this is quite unambiguous. Security cameras and noise detection devices are allowed “as long as they are clearly stated in the ad description and do not infringe people’s privacy”.
In other words, there is a clear prohibition of:
- Devices hidden and unrevealed that are placed to monitor common spaces. Any such device must be installed “visibly and disclosed in the listing description.”
- devices located in private spaces, such as bedrooms, bathrooms and rest areas, such as sofa beds. “Disconnected devices are allowed as long as they are turned off and their existence is proactively communicated to guests.”
How to find a hidden surveillance camera? In this sense, ESET, an expert company in cybersecurity, offers the following Tips to detect a spy camera in a holiday accommodation:
1) Scan the room
Sometimes the old ways are the best. Look for hidden cameras in plain sight, perhaps in clocks, smoke detectors, speakers, or even light bulbs.
2) Use a flashlight
Camera lenses are made of glass, which means they are reflective. Therefore, if you dim the lights and point a flashlight through the accommodation, you will be able to check if there is indeed something hidden in an appliance or piece of furniture.
3) Check for night vision lights
Dimming the lights or turning them off also helps detect the indicators red or green LEDs that identify night vision cameras. Move slowly and neatly around the property to try to identify them, as they can be quite small.
4) Use an app
Developers have been working on a mobile application that uses the time of flight sensor (ToF) of phones to find spy cameras hidden in everyday objects. There are also apps and other programs, including security ones, that can scan networks not only for weak spots, but also to help find connected devices.
5) Detect radio frequency signals
One last telltale sign of a hidden camera is to examine the radio frequency (RF) signals that the camera may be using to connect to a hidden network. Devices are available to detect this activity, although they can be quite expensive. An alternative is to make a call to a family member or friend and tour the property in the meantime.