INT. CABIN – NIGHT
JESS settles into a cozy and secluded Airbnb. Expect some peace and privacy. He sets down his hiking gear for the next day near the front door, changes clothes, and brushes his teeth. Jess looks around the room before turning off the lights and getting into bed. She sees a red glow emanating from the bookshelf. Jess stands up and cautiously approaches the shelf. Pushing aside a book, she jumps when she spots a camera.
This horror movie is one you could star in when staying at a vacation rental. While property owners may be justified in wanting to monitor the comings and goings of guests, there are some places where cameras simply shouldn’t be.
Vacation Rental Policies and the Law
Airbnb bans the placement of cameras(Opens in a new window) by hosts in private spaces, which it defines as “bedrooms, bathrooms, or common areas that are used as sleeping areas, such as a living room with a sofa bed.” Allows the use of cameras in public and common spaces, but requires hosts to disclose the presence and location of cameras in their listings. Vrbo Policy(Opens in a new window) it is almost identical, just like the one on Booking.com(Opens in a new window).
Federal privacy laws do not apply to vacation rentals, but some states, cities, and municipalities have laws(Opens in a new window) which cover camera use where you would reasonably expect privacy.
With that being said, some rental hosts flout policies and the law. Case in point: Kennedy Calwell took to TikTok to tell the story of how she found a camera in a bathroom plug at an Airbnb that she and 14 friends rented for a birthday celebration. Calwell and her friends reported the camera to Airbnb and local police in Canada. Canada’s CTV followed up on the story and confirmed the investigation.
@kennedyaleggedly(Opens in a new window) in #CTV(Opens in a new window) last night to talk about the hidden camera situation 😵💫 #airbnb(Opens in a new window) #creepy(Opens in a new window) #girl strip(Opens in a new window) #ctvvancouver(Opens in a new window) ♬ original sound – kennedy(Opens in a new window)
How to find surveillance cameras
The Airbnb hosts in the Calwell story claimed not to know about the camera’s existence. Still, you should read the listings carefully for camera reveals before you book. You should also check the reviews and look for any mention of cameras.
Slow and steady search
The easiest and least technological way to find a camera is to do the kind of search Calwell’s friend did: turn off all the lights, run a flashlight around the room, and look for reflections that might indicate a lens. Go slowly, as lens flare can be very small. Be sure to check out items that could easily hide a camera, such as smoke detectors, alarm clocks, shower heads, plug sockets, and the like. Also look for bright or blinking LED lights that might reveal a recording device in operation.
check the mirrors
Then check the mirrors. If they lift off the wall, you can look behind them. If they’re bolted on, you can check to see if they’re bi-directional by turning the lights off once more and holding a flashlight to the mirror and searching its surface. If you only see the reflection of your flashlight, the mirror is probably not two-way. If you see an area behind the mirror, it is bi-directional.
See if your phone can detect infrared
If you’ve been using your phone’s flashlight for all of this, don’t give it up. Test if your phone’s camera can detect infrared by opening the camera app, pointing a remote at it, and pressing a few buttons. If you see a flash of violet or white light, the camera can detect infrared. Turn off all the lights in the room, open the camera app, and scan the room for any similar bursts that might be coming from a camera.
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Scan the Wi-Fi network
As a guest, you likely have access to your rental’s Wi-Fi, allowing you to perform a scan. Download a Wi-Fi scanner app like Fing(Opens in a new window) to see what devices are connected. Follow the app instructions on the screen. Please note that a host may have another Wi-Fi network and not all cameras need to be connected to Wi-Fi to work. For a final sweep, you can purchase an RF detector that can find wireless devices. The Voivey G6 Sport(Opens in a new window) it is small and travels well.
Check the settings of the smart home device
If the rental has a Google Nest Hub, Amazon Echo Show, or similar smart display, swipe over to the camera tab to see what’s being monitored. If someone was trying to hide a camera, they probably wouldn’t connect it to said device, but not everyone thinks about these things, so it’s worth checking.
What to do if you find a camera
The first thing to do if you find a camera where it shouldn’t be is to document its presence: Take photos and video. Then immediately report the camera(s) to the booking platform you used. If you feel unsafe and can find another place to stay, please do so. It is up to you whether or not to contact the police, but you can also file a police report.
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