How to Check Your Vacation Rental or Hotel Room for Hidden Cameras (Video)
Home-sharing services like Airbnb, HomeAway, and VRBO have undoubtedly change the travel industry forever. Now, thanks to these services, travelers can truly get familiar with a new location and spend time living like a local. But, a few recent headlines about hosts setting up hidden cameras have made people a bit wary of home share sites.
“We have encountered lots of weird and wonderful things and like to think we take most things in our stride,” Nealie Barker, a woman who discovered a hidden camera in her Airbnb during a vacation in March in Cork, Ireland, told New Zealand’s Stuff. “However this was shocking.”
Barker is far from alone, but reps for Airbnb released a statement saying they are working to address these reports.
“The safety of our community — both online and offline — is our priority, which is why we take reports of privacy violations very seriously and employ sophisticated technologies to help prevent bad actors from using our platform in the first place,” an Airbnb spokesperson said.
Here are three ways to check to see if your rental — or your hotel room — has any hidden devices.
Use a flashlight.
According to CNN, using your phone’s flashlight may be one of the easiest ways to detect a hidden camera. All you need to do is flash the light against anything that looks abnormal including clocks and smoke detectors.
"Assuming the camera has some form of a lens, you use a device that has a very bright light source and a viewfinder that allows you to scan for the reflections from the lens," professor Alan Woodward from the Center for Cyber Security at the U.K.'s Surrey University, told CNN.
Download an app to scan for recording equipment.
If you’re really feeling paranoid, you could take it a step further by downloading an app that will scan for frequencies used by recording equipment.
"If it does transmit RF, then you can again buy a standard bug detector that you sweep the room with to search for hidden sources of radio transmission," Woodward added. "There are some products out there that combine the optical and RF detection methods."
Do a physical inspection.
This trick is perhaps the easiest, and the cheapest: Physically inspect the room for any irregularities.
Mike O’Rourke, co-founder and CEO of the Washington-based global security consultancy Advanced Operational Concepts, told The Points Guy guests should be looking for any small holes around the room, including in the wall or in objects placed in the room. Also be on the lookout for random wires that don’t belong, or any flashing or blinking lights.
“Light fixtures, smoke detectors, clock radios, coffee pots, and electric sockets have all been used to hide cameras,” he added. “I’ve seen cameras in the air conditioner vents in hotel rooms. The shorter answer is where haven’t cameras been hidden.”
Remember: Hosts are technically allowed to film you in certain locations.
Airbnb’s current regulations do allow hosts to place cameras in common areas, such as the living room, outside, or in the kitchen. However, hosts must disclose the use of cameras and guests must agree to these terms before booking. Cameras are never allowed in areas of “reasonable privacy” like the bedrooms or bathrooms.
If you do find a camera in your rental, contact customer service at your rental agency immediately. And, if you find one in your hotel room, ask to change rooms and contact the hotel management as soon as possible.
And remember, though these cases are highly disturbing and you should be doing due-diligence wherever you go, it’s important to not let this stop you from traveling.
"I wouldn't let this be the deciding factor on where you choose to stay," she adds. "I also wouldn't let anxiety over this affect your ability to relax in your room and enjoy your vacation,” Sarah Schlichter, a senior editor at SmarterTravel, told CNN. "If you're concerned, check your room when you arrive. If you do find a camera, report it to your hotel or vacation rental booking site and seek new accommodations. Otherwise, there's not much else you can do."