- Renting an Airbnb comes with its share of risks, including the possibility that your host is monitoring you with a hidden camera.
- The practice of using hidden cameras is somewhat widespread. A recent report found that thousands of Airbnb hosts were using closed Facebook groups to gossip about tenants and share security-camera footage of them.
- A cybersecurity expert identified a simple trick anyone can use to find out whether their Airbnb host is monitoring them from afar and shared the technique with Business Insider.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Home-sharing rentals can be unpredictable. While staying in any hotel or rental can come with surprises, listings on apps like Airbnb and Vrbo are managed by individual users, making each short-term rental different.
Privacy-minded renters might worry about the possibility that their host is watching them discreetly using security cameras. The concern is well founded: A recent report found that thousands of Airbnb and Vrbo hosts were gathering in closed Facebook groups to gossip about guests and share embarrassing photos, some of which were captured by security cameras.
Airbnb’s community standards bar hosts from sharing guests’ personal information, but they don’t stop hosts from monitoring their units with live feeds streamed by security cameras. (Airbnb did, however, recently change its safety standards in the wake of five deaths at a party hosted in an Airbnb last week.)
And while some states have laws against secretly recording people, those wouldn’t prevent hosts from monitoring their homes secretly without sharing the footage.
Internet-enabled security cameras are easy to find and relatively cheap, allowing people to watch a livestream of their unit on a phone or computer while they’re away.
Alex Heid, the chief research and development officer at SecurityScorecard, developed a simple method to detect whether an Airbnb host might be watching their guests live on a hidden camera. Heid shared the technique with Business Insider, as well as backup tricks to help detect hidden cameras.
Here’s how to find out whether your Airbnb host might be discreetly watching you on a live security camera.
First, find the WiFi router in your Airbnb unit.
- Casezy idea/Shutterstock
Then turn it off, by either unplugging it or using the power button.
Wait to see if you hear anything from your Airbnb host. If they contact you asking why the WiFi was turned off, they were monitoring the unit using some internet-connected device. “If nothing comes back, you’re probably all right,” Heid said.
“This has happened to me,” Heid said. “One time I unplugged the router and [the Airbnb host] texted me and said, ‘Hey, can you see why the WiFi went out?’ And I was like, ‘Why?'”
If you want to be especially cautious, you can also download an app that detects other devices on a WiFi network.
- Antonio Villas-Boas/Business Insider
Apps like Fing let users check other wireless devices on a network.
Heid also recommended Airbnb renters use a VPN, or virtual private network, a service that hides browsing data from the owner of a wireless network.
- Screen grab
In some cases, a host might have other reasons to monitor WiFi in the unit, like for a home security system or internet-connected air conditioning. But turning off the WiFi is a good way to see whether your host notices and to open the conversation.