A New Zealand family that booked an Airbnb in Ireland recently discovered an undisclosed camera in the living room, and the family says that Airbnb initially cleared the host of any wrongdoing before finally banning the offender from its platform.
“Once the family had unpacked, Andrew Barker, who works in IT security, scanned the house’s Wi-Fi network,” CNN reported today.
“The scan unearthed a camera and subsequently a live feed. From the angle of the video, the family tracked down the camera, concealed in what appeared to be a smoke alarm or carbon monoxide detector.”
Nealie Barker posted an image on Facebook showing the location of the camera in the living room and a shot of the family from the sneaky video feed:
We’re not certain which of the two devices on the ceiling contains the camera. But while the device on the right looks like a regular smoke detector, the one on the left appears to be similar to surveillance cameras that are designed to look like smoke detectors. We contacted Nealie Barker for more details on how the family discovered the camera and video feed, and we’ll update this story if we get a response.
Based on the photo, the video of the Barkers seems to have been taken on March 3 and was viewable on the local Wi-Fi network at 192.168.0.4/video/livemb.asp.
The family relocated to a hotel and contacted both Airbnb and the property host. The host initially hung up but later called back and told them, “The camera in the living room was the only one in the house,” CNN wrote. It’s not clear whether the host was recording the video, whether he was capturing audio, whether he was monitoring it remotely in real time, or whether he was using it for anything more than monitoring guests.
“We felt an immediate violation of our privacy in a private residence we had paid to occupy,” Nealie Barker told Sky News.
Airbnb admits mistake in response to incident
Airbnb’s response was troubling, Nealie Barker said. Customer service reps “didn’t seem to grasp the seriousness of the issue. They were treating it like a canceled booking,” she told CNN.
Airbnb temporarily suspended the listing and promised to investigate, CNN wrote. But when Barker contacted Airbnb again two weeks later, “the company told her that the host had been ‘exonerated,’ and the listing reinstated.”
Airbnb finally banned the host after Nealie Barker posted about the disturbing incident on Facebook on Monday this week. Barker’s Facebook post said that Airbnb’s “investigation which didn’t include any follow-up with us exonerated the host, no explanation provided,” and that “the listing (with hidden camera not mentioned) is still on Airbnb.”
Airbnb acknowledged that it made a mistake in its initial response to the Barkers’ discovery of the camera and video feed.
“Our original handling of this incident did not meet the high standards we set for ourselves, and we have apologized to the family and fully refunded their stay,” Airbnb said in a statement provided to Ars.
We asked Airbnb how long the offending host was renting out the place, but the company didn’t answer.
Airbnb’s policy says that hosts must disclose “any type of surveillance device” in listings, “even if it’s not turned on or hooked up.” Cameras are allowed in certain spaces if they are disclosed, but Airbnb “prohibit[s] 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.”
“If a host discloses the device after booking, Airbnb will allow the guest to cancel the reservation and receive a refund. Host cancellation penalties may apply,” Airbnb’s policy also says.
“We have a zero tolerance stance when it comes to violations and we immediately remove anyone who has violated the policy,” Airbnb told Ars.
Airbnb said that its users’ “safety and privacy… is our priority,” and that it “strictly prohibit[s] hidden cameras in listings and we take reports of any violations extremely seriously.”
Lastly, Airbnb said that “there have been over half a billion guest arrivals in Airbnb listings to date and negative incidents are incredibly rare.”
Ireland’s Data Protection Commission told CNN that it is “seeking further information from Airbnb on the matter.”
Barker told CNN that she and her family have become more cautious because of the filming incident, and she’s advised other travelers to be careful because “the travel market is largely unregulated.”