Airbnb Has a Hidden-Camera Problem – You telling me?

Airbnb monitoring warning
You would never guess it was a listening device from the picture

I was reading a piece in the Atlantic about Airbnb and the camera problem.

Of course this has super relevance to me after my experience of a Airbnb in Barcelona last year.

Airbnb’s rules allow cameras outdoors and in living rooms and common areas, but never in bathrooms or anywhere guests plan to sleep, including rooms with foldout beds. Starting in early 2018, Airbnb added another layer of disclosure: If hosts indicate they have cameras anywhere on their property, guests receive a pop-up informing them where the cameras are located and where they are aimed. To book the property, the guests must click “agree,” indicating that they’re aware of the cameras and consent to being filmed.

I do find it really interesting because Airbnb class listening devices such as Amazon Alexa as cameras too. I did think this would be very difficult to police. The transparency is welcomed, as before you had to search pictures for anything which looked suspicious.

In January, Bigham discovered cameras in his rental that he says were never disclosed. After he reached out to the Trust & Safety team, representatives told him he and his family had in fact consented to the cameras because they were visibly displayed in photos on the listing. After Bigham’s blog post on the ordeal went viral, Airbnb apologized and refunded his money.

But Bigham says customer-service representatives for Airbnb twice sided against him before reversing their original decision, and only after his blog post was widely shared online.

“No one really seems to know what they’re doing,” Bigham said in an email. “And it seems like it’s only going to get worse.”

In a statement, Airbnb said: “We have apologized to Mr. Bigham and fully refunded him 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. This host has been removed from our community.”

As usual the public stink causes Airbnb to actually do something. I wonder how many complaints get shoved under the carpet?

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.