There have been several reports of vacation rental hosts installing hidden cameras. Several have come from Airbnb. These hosts, which BTW are suppose to disclose if there any cameras, are installing hidden cameras inside and outside their properties. According to reports, several AirBnB hosts have been caught red handed.
Back in January Fast Company reported that a professor at Carnegie Mellon University discovered two hidden cameras recording him and his family. This was an AirBnB rental, and they were on holiday. Also reported was an incident, just last month by The Atlantic reported with a New Zealand family who was renting an Airbnb in Ireland. They found that they were not only being recorded, but being live-streamed, all from hidden cameras.
These are not isolated incidents. This is actually a growing trend. AirBnB is responding to these increasing reports of guests finding hidden cameras in their Airbnb rental by cracking down on hosts.
Just because Airbnb has a strict policy that forbids hosts from hiding cameras in their property, without the guests knowledge, is no guarantee that their hosts will comply.
If you don’t like the idea of being on camera without your knowledge, there are steps you can take.
The first thing you want to do is ask the host directly. Tell the host that you have electronic equipment that will tell you if there are any cameras. Explain that if you find cameras you will report it to the authorities and the company you used to book your stay. If there are cameras, the fact that you are prepared to search for them and report the host if necessary could be a serious deterrent.
Keep your eyes open for any odd-looking tech gadgets or holes in the wall or ceiling. Smoke detectors are prime for hidden cameras. Gadgets that look out of place in their surroundings may contain a hidden camera.
There are a plethora of ways to hide a hidden camera. From stuffed animals to USB ports, and everything in between. They are so small that they can be hidden just about anywhere.
Here is a list of some of the types of devices you can buy with cameras hidden in them: alarm clocks, wall clocks, smoke detectors, plants, mirrors, light bulbs, speakers, and even USB wall plugs.
If for some strange reason you see an alarm clock in a bathroom or somewhere that is out of place, that’s a pretty good sign. If you see a device that is plugged in, facing the bed for example, that could be a hidden camera.
When trying to visually spot gadgets with hidden cameras, keep an eye out for devices that have a clean, unobstructed line of sight.
One of the oldest tricks in the book is to use a flashlight. Since lenses have to be made of glass, and glass reflects light, bingo! Flash the light onto any device and see if there is glass. That would be a great indication of a camera.
Turn off all the lights and open your flashlight app on your smartphone. Take the phone and slowly sweep of every room looking for any small flashes of light. If you spot any examine it more closely. You may have just found a hidden camera.
As easy as using a flashlight may be, it is not foolproof. Visual checks and flashlight aren’t always effective in spot hidden cameras. Even for those people who have keen perception. Don’t fret, there is good news. There is an even better way to find hidden cameras.
Almost every single vacation rental has WiFi. Most, if not all cameras, use wireless technology to send the video to the cameras owner. The fact that these devices use wireless technology makes them visible.
If you have a smartphone, you can use apps like Fing. Find is available for most smartphones. These apps can display all the wireless devices connected to any WiFi network. So, when you arrive at your vacation rental, and before you unpack, check to see what wireless devices are hooked up to the network.
Now, Fing and similar apps cannot always identify the type of device that is connected to the network, or if it a hidden camera. What they will do is give you that devices MAC address (media access control). The MAC address can give you a hint as to what the connected device is. All you have to do is enter the MAC address at MacVendorLookup.com to see who the manufacturer is and white type of device the MAC belongs too.
Unfortunately if the host of your vacation rental has a second wireless connection, then all bets are off. It would be difficult to find the cameras.
If all else fails, or if you just want to be super sure that there are no cameras, then your only other alternative is to purchase an RF detector. All wireless devices emit a radio signal that is broadcast to the router. An RF detector will show you where any wireless devices are by honing in on their radio signal. What does a RF detector cost, you might ask, somewhere between $30 and $60. Small price to pay for piece of mind.
Sweep the RF detector around the room, and if it starts beeping repeatedly, it has found a wireless signal. Keep move the RF detector in the direction that increases the beeps until you find the device.
What should you do if you find a hidden camera? The first thing you should do is confront the host then report them to the company where you booked your vacation rental. Next, if you choose, you can report it to the authorities. This will depend on where you are, and the laws governing hidden cameras.
If you can’t reach the host or someone at the vacation rental booking company, and you don’t feel safe staying there, consider unplugging the hidden camera if it has a power cord. This should stop it, unless it has a backup battery. If you can’t unplug it or are not certain it is turned off, simply place something in front or cover the camera.
Bottom Line: We live in the age of technology. Not only do we have to concern ourselves with hidden cameras, but devices like Echo or Alexa can be used to listen in and record your conversations. If the vacation rental has one of these devices, just unplug it.