Some of you may have seen the headlines about Airbnbs many safety concerns, among them is a hiden camera problem. However this is not a problem that is exclusive to Airbnb, this is a world wide problem that happens in major hotel chains as well.
The people that are installing these hidden cameras do so for a variety of reason. Some for…….. personal……. enjoyment we will say, others for blackmail purposes and for an example, one that is mostly overseas, there is reportedly a dark-web site that you can log on to and pick a hidden camera, like a tv channel, and stream live hidden video from all over the world.
Booking your accommodations anonymously is the best route to take because even if you are recorded then they cant really black mail you cause they don’t know who you truly are. We will cover this topic in depth at a later date as it could take multiple articles and still not cover all the possibilities.
For today we are going to stick with how to sweep your hotel room/ Airbnb as this can and should be done whether you renting anonymously or not.
You should start before you even book the reservation. Do your research into the property or hotel. Read reviews and search the address on search engines. 5 basic issues to check for can be found here.
You can also check sites like trip advisor however there has been some controversy surrounding Trip Advisor and Airbnb as of late. They have been accused of deleting negative reviews of properties even when they bring up possible safety concerns. So trust your gut and if something doesn’t feel right find a different place to stay.
If you read that article from the Atlantic linked above you will see that Airbnb allows hosts to place cameras in their listings as long as they are following some rules.
“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.”
So during your booking process you should have been made aware if there are cameras in the house in the common areas…..if the host decided to enlighten Airbnb to their presence. I personally would not be staying anywhere that posted that they had cameras on the property but that is just me, you will have to make your own decision on that.
Now lets say you’ve booked your stay, you made the trip, you’ve checked in and your walking up to the door. Hotel doors all look pretty much the same with key card or keyed locks. Many Airbnbs, like many home owners, have started installing camera/intercom door bells. There are some privacy issues with these door bells, not from the Airbnb host who is only going to be able to watch you as you come and go, but from the company producing the product. Nothing criminal or unethical on the homeowners part just something to be aware of.
Now your inside the Airbnb or your hotel room. Which ever one your in will dictate how long this process will take, but either way the process is the same. Pick a starting point. I like to start from the door and just work my way in. Others do the opposite and like to start in the bathroom and work their way out. From there its entirely up to you. Just pick a way that you are not going to skip or forget to check somewhere.
Now start by checking any objects that are out in the open. This can include clocks, pictures, tissue boxes/ decorative covers, are hanging on the wall etc. Look them over, check behind/underneath them, check for memory card slots, extra wires, visible camera lenses, antennas that don’t make sense and anything that just doesn’t feel right.
Next check anything plugged into outlets. Cameras are often disguised as air fresheners, plug in smoke or CO detectors, chargers, basically anything the average person might not think twice about. Look them over for the same things you checked for with things that were out in the open. Now check things attached to the walls and the outlets themselves.
Now Im not saying start taking things off the wall and messing with wiring! Just like looking for a card skimmer at a public ATM give them a wiggle plug in a charger or something to make sure the outlet actually has power. Same goes for cable outlets in the walls smoke detectors, wifi routers etc.
The cameras that the average person might come in contact with will likely be found by this method. The people putting these cameras in place are not professionals and they are counting on the general obliviousness that the general public walks around with these days to hide the cameras for them. So if you haven’t found anything suspicious or obvious cameras, you are probably good to go and enjoy your stay.
You can also buy a scanner and scan for wireless frequencies, though one that will actually do the job will run you a minimum of $200 and a good one closer to $300-500. I have no personal experience with theses devices but have heard mixed reviews from sources that I trust.
Scanners in this price range will not find high end cameras that would be implemented by your typical government agencies or used in corporate espionage. Equipment to detect those devices would run in the thousands and with a few exceptions not the most likely threat you will face as an average citizen.
If this is your concern your department, agency, or company likely has an in house team or someone that they work with to sweep for bugs and cameras.
Now lets say that you swept your room/Airbnb and found one or more cameras. When you checked in there was no warning about the cameras and they are/or they are not within Airbnb’s policy. Or your in a hotel room where there should be no cameras anyway.
Step one is to make sure you are safe, if you do not think that you are safe collect your belongings and get some where that is safe. Do not hand over the cameras or memory card to anyone from the hotel or
Airbnb because you then loose any and all evidence that it occurred.
At this point if you are stateside contact law enforcement and file a report as they are the only person I would turn over the cameras to.
If you are abroad contact your consulate and do what they recommend. In most countries that will involve calling the local law enforcement.
For Airbnb contact them as soon as you can and they may help you find new accommodations. (disclaimer I have yet to find a contact phone number on their site so you will have to contact them through their online form/process and it may take them some time to get back to you. Mentioning you are in contact with law enforcement may speed up that process).
For hotels contact the front desk and demand to talk to the manager.
The likelihood that you will be in a room that has hidden cameras in it generally is quite low. However this is still a threat that you should take quite seriously, just because the chance is low doesn’t mean it cant happen to you.
Think about it, how many people that have been struck by lighting thought it would happen to them? Probably not that many. Now the more you travel, the higher that chance becomes simply because you staying in more places. The more times you roll the dice at some point your gonna get snake eyes.