While Airbnb's rules say a host must disclose the presence of cameras in its "House Rules," we all know that rules are, on occasion, simply not followed. It's not delightful to think about, but the truth is that there are some property owners that want to invade the peace and privacy of your home-away-from-home. It's by no means the vast majority of hosts and property managers, but it's an unfortunate reality we must contend with when traveling.
So how exactly could perpetrators be dropping in on you and yours? Primarily through hidden cameras nestled away in common devices like smoke detectors and air filters, as well as tucked behind things like books and pieces of furniture.
It’s essential that you know how to find hidden cameras, so you can keep yourself safe and ensure your private moments stay just that: Private.
A Toronto couple found a hidden camera in their Airbnb because they noticed something was off about an alarm clock in their room. It was connected to a wire that looked like a phone charger, which didn’t seem quite right. This prompted the couple to investigate further. Smoke detectors are another known hiding place for cameras. Check to see if the smoke detector looks abnormal in any way.
If you notice something looks different about a tech device in your room, check out the device and remove the battery backing. For instance, maybe you see the gadget has a different charger, a camera hole, a different type of battery, or a light that doesn’t belong. If you see any sketchy-looking tech, you can also search the brand and model number online to see if you’re dealing with a hidden camera gadget.
You can look for additional suspicious signs too, like two smoke detectors near the same spot, or devices placed in weird locations.
Step 1: Check to see if the smoke detector looks abnormal in any way.
Step 2: If so, look closer and remove the battery backing. For example, maybe you see the gadget has a different charger, a camera hole, a different type of battery, or a light that doesn’t belong.
Step 3: If you see any sketchy-looking tech, you can also search the brand and model number online to see if you’re dealing with a hidden camera gadget.
Step 4: In addition to alarm clocks and smoke detectors, there are a number of other common devices that hidden cameras can be concealed within. Check the following:
- Night lights
- Electrical outlets
- Power strips
- DVD/Blu-ray or video game cases
- Desktop and laptop computers
- Computer mice/keyboards
- Wall clocks
Step 5: If you're suspicious of any products in the Airbnb, simply cover or unplug devices like alarm clocks, which are common places to conceal cameras.
Hidden cameras come inside of small objects like pens, motion detectors, Bluetooth speakers, and necklaces. There are also tiny, stand-alone cameras that are one inch or smaller, which people can hide in normal décor like lampshades, picture frames, house plants, and blinds.
Step 1: Look for any holes where someone could have placed a tiny camera.
Step 2: Turn off all the lights in the space.
Step 3: Shine a flashlight around the area to search for a camera lens. The lens should reflect the light, making it easier to spot.
Use your phone to find hidden cameras
You can also install certain apps on your phone that can scan for hidden cameras. These apps, like Hidden Camera Detector, may not be as accurate as an RF scanner, but for under $5 you can give them a try. Some of these apps may even be free.
Of course, when every opening is a potential spot for a hidden camera (and in an unfamiliar environment), looking for lens glinting can be difficult. Fortunately, there are apps that can help. For Android, you can try the Glint Finder, which uses a camera flash to locate lens reflections. For iOS, there's the Hidden Camera Detector app, which can not only seek out lenses but also help you monitor Wi-Fi.
Additionally, certain smartphone cameras are capable of detecting infrared lighting, which is how most night vision-equipped cameras are able to capture footage in the dark. Do keep in mind that not every smartphone camera will be capable of detecting infrared lighting. Here's how to search for infrared indicators:
Step 1: Shut the lights off in the place you're staying in and fire up your phone camera.
Step 2: Aim the phone all around the environment and look for purple or white blips of light, paying particular attention to areas like ceilings, around wall-hung photos, air filters, and electrical outlets.
These purple and white auras that appear on your phone screen are the infrared rays that are obscured to the naked eye -- but not to your iPhone.
Sometimes, people hide recording devices in storage spaces. One Airbnb guest claims they found a cell phone recording in the bathroom under the sink, for example. Examine areas like bookshelves, dressers, and closets, especially if those areas could hide a device that could record in a private area like a bedroom or bathroom. Bathroom fans, vents, and other openings in the wall or ceiling are favorite spots for people to hide cameras.
If you are really determined to prevent hidden devices from invading your privacy, you can invest in a hidden device detector. Cameras that use Bluetooth or Wi-Fi to send or receive data will emit an RF signal. You can purchase an RF signal detector to pick up those signals and then locate a hidden camera. This, for instance, can find mini hidden cameras and other types of bugs and recording devices.
You can buy other detectors for anywhere between $20 and upward of $300. It just depends on the features and quality you want in a device scanner. No RF device is going to find hidden cameras 100% of the time though. If a camera is recording but not sending the data, an RF detector will not pick up on the camera.
In addition to scanning for a camera using an RF scanner or an app, you can also scan the Wi-Fi network for any cameras that are connected to the internet. Sometimes hidden cameras are hard-wired, with the wiring hidden behind walls, which means that scanners and apps like these may not be able to detect them at all, but this is relatively rare. Here's how to scan the Wi-Fi network:
Step 2: Open the app.
Step 3: Follow the steps to scan the Wi-Fi network.
There's another simple way to help uncover any spying attempts. Many Airbnb spaces have their own router for guests. Security experts have found that this little trick works well for uncovering any spy attempts.
Again, there are ways around this, like using a separate router or hard-wiring the camera. But this option is a very effective method for how little effort it takes.
Step 1: Find the router in your rental.
Step 2: Unplug the router. You can do this as you are heading out for the day so you don't lose Wi-Fi when you need it later.
Step 3: If you don't hear anything from your host, everything is probably fine.
Step 4: If your host contacts you to ask what's wrong with the router, you know that they are monitoring it for some reason. Unless they have a good explanation for why, this might be an indicator that they're spying on you.
What to do if you find a hidden camera
If you find a hidden camera installed in your rental home, there are a few things you should do immediately. First, you should contact the local authorities so they can investigate the situation. Then, you should reach out to Airbnb to report the incident and the rental owner.
According to Airbnb’s rules, installing a surveillance device in any area of the bedroom or bathroom is not allowed. Airbnb requires all hosts to thoroughly identify any cameras on the rental property, which includes security cameras outside, so you know if and where cameras are located. No matter the minor differences in privacy policies from one state to another, it’s usually illegal to put up hidden cameras that face out to the street.
Some states have even enacted or demanded further restrictions or laws regarding hidden cameras. For example, in New York, a homeowner has the right to install a hidden camera because it’s their personal property. That said, privacy laws then prevent recording any moments where there is an “expectation of privacy.” This law is relatively similar across all states.
A term like “expectation of privacy” is intentionally left broad and vague – it applies to areas like the bathroom, bedroom, or non-common spaces, which includes the areas of the home that you’re renting. The punishment for privacy violations is becoming harsher. Now, you could face charges like trespassing, spying, or stalking.
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