Technology

Airbnb urged to enforce tougher regulations after holidaying family discovers hidden camera

Ali Coulton

Ali Coulton

A family holidaying in Ireland were met with a nasty shock while trying to connect to the WiFi of their Airbnb accommodation: they were being watched.

IT consultant Andrew Barker was staying at an Airbnb listing in Cork, Ireland last month with his wife, four children and niece when he tried to connect to the house wifi and discovered a camera on the list of networks.

Barker discovered the device, hidden in a smoke alarm in the living room, was sending a live video feed to the host of the Airbnb.

“It felt like a huge invasion of our privacy,” Nealie, Barker’s wife, told the ABC.

“The kids felt worried that the host might be a scary stalker type and we knew he had remote access to the front door, so could, in theory, enter the property.

“We really had no clue whether our safety was at risk or not or whether there were other cameras in the house.”

After initially denying the existence of the camera, the host told the Barkers he installed it to protect his investment.

The host also reportedly refused to tell the family if the camera was recording audio.

The most shocking part of the Barker’s ordeal was perhaps Airbnb’s response to the incident.

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Nealie Barker told the ABC the home sharing giant didn’t seem to “grasp the seriousness of the situation”.

She said Airbnb refused to remove the listing at first, despite the listing including no mention of a hidden camera, and the company stating in its Standards & Expectations that hosts must “disclose all surveillance devices in their listings”.

“We prohibit any surveillance devices that are in or that observe the interior of certain private spaces (such as bedrooms and bathrooms) regardless of whether they’ve been disclosed,” Airbnb’s website states.

“Airbnb refused to explain to us why they had made that decision and refused to enter into any further discussion on the matter,” Barker said.

Airbnb later admitted their “original handling” of the situation didn’t meet the “high standards” they set for themselves.

“The safety and privacy of our community — both online and offline — is our priority,” a spokesperson for Airbnb told the New Zealand Herald.

“Airbnb policies strictly prohibit hidden cameras in listings and we take reports of any violations extremely seriously.”

The spokesperson also said the Barkers would receive a full refund and that the situation was “incredibly rare”.

However, the ABC found that it may not be as rare as travellers may hope.

In fact, a study of 1,000 complaints lodged with Airbnb found “unsafe and unacceptable conditions”, which included the use of hidden cameras, was the third most common complaint.

Nealie Barker is now lobbying for the home sharing giant to bring in a clearer no tolerance policy for hidden cameras and a harsher vetting process which bans hosts who do not comply with its policies.

“They should also be contacting previous guests from a property with a discovered camera to let them know that they may have been surveilled without their knowledge,” she said.

Travel Weekly has contacted Airbnb but it is yet to respond.

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