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?

A spy under the tree for the holidays?

The Observer on IOT and spying

Quite enjoyed Guardian’s piece about the raff of home iot devices coming to the home these holidays.

If you’ve so far withstood the temptation to install a smart speaker in your home, worried about the potential privacy pitfalls and a bit embarrassed about the notion of chatting aimlessly to an inanimate object, brace yourselves. This Christmas, the world’s biggest tech giants, including Amazon, Google and Facebook, are making another bid for your living room, announcing a range of new devices that resemble tablets you can talk to.

It was a real welcome surprise to read/hear Alexandra Deschamps-Sonsino too. Her new book Smarter Homes: How Technology Will Change Your Home Life is pretty much on the money.

“It’s very clear what they’re trying to do: sell you more stuff through third-party use of your own information,”

The fear about whether or not such devices are actually always on causes some users to relegate their smart speakers to corridors. “Think about where in the home you want to use these things, particularly if you think they might be listening all the time,”

I had the joy of capturing some of Alexandra’s early thoughts while putting together the ethics of personal data video interviews back in 2015.

I think the only thing missing from the article is a link to Mozilla’s buyers guide, which charts in a friendly consumer fashion whats actually going on underneath the surface of the iot devices we may get over the holiday period.

Finally, the northern lights…

The Northen Lights above Reykjavik

I have always wanted to see the Aurora Borealis/Northern Lights but never really seeked them out till this trip to Iceland.

Brian sent me a DVD and was more determined than ever to go and see them. Last afternoon, Brian the great man that he is, introduced me to the man/legend Snorri Por Tryggvason. Snorri is an incredible man, who talked about his joy of capturing the northern lights and how he’s always raising the bar in his pictures & movies. Some of the pictures on his phone were incredible especially the ones with a formation of distant stars nicely positioned in the background. He’s a humble man with tons of experience under his belt.

At some point Snorri, looked at the cloud cover for the area. He suggested chasing/hunting the Aurora and asked if I wanted to come? I hadn’t really thought about hunting for them in the way storm chasers do, but I jumped at the chance. So it was set, 9:30pm pick up and we drive out of the city to chase down the northern lights in between the clouds.

I got quickly cooked, eat and put on 5 layers on my top half and 4 below. Wore two thick socks and my gore-tex adidas trainers. I was ready for the elements at -1. Snorri took me to some great spots tourists miss out on, while keeping an eye on the skies.

It was the 3rd place (Elliðavatn) when we started to see the green rays in the sky, so awestruck I fumbled with my Nikon D3200 manual settings while kneeling into some thick snow. Snorri snapped a great photo of me trying to get things ready (its a fantastic picture, and shows how much experience he has to grab such a photo with my own gorilla pod). Snorri then helped me setup my camera just in case of a second showing. We didn’t have to wait long as they danced around the sky again 5mins later. Shame I didn’t level the camera correctly, but it’s easily fixed when shooting in 24 megapixel raws.

The Northern lights was stunning and with the city in the distance, it was quite an amazing experience. I was surprised that although it was cold, lying in the snow wasn’t as bad as I’d first imagined it would be (those waterproof clothes had done their job well).

As I drove back with Snorri along some frankly amazingly snowy roads which only a 4×4 should take. We talked about what had led me here, my brush with death, life and my next Holiday with Kate, it was a wonderful experience and I can’t praise the man highly enough for his knowledge, experience, friendly conversation and patience. It’s a true geek who always wants to better themselves but also wants to share the knowledge along the way; as he has in icelandaurorafilms. Of course Snorri’s not stopped there, his latest project is FlowVR – meditation technology.

I feel extremely excited (so much that I can’t sleep at 2am), lucky and amazed by last night. Something I will never forget!

Updated… Here is that shot from Snorri with me taking the shot above.

me taking a shot of the northern lights
Yes that’s certainly me with that distinctive sockhat and large coat, nealing in the snow…