Ahh… vacation! You’ve worked hard to earn this little getaway, and you’ve decided to treat yourself.
Hotels are sterile and overpriced, so you went with an Airbnb out in the country instead.
And you’re glad you did – you’re staying in a swanky little guesthouse in the perfect location for less than you’d be paying for a hotel.
Between the Jacuzzi tub, the king-size pillowtop bed and the picturesque porch, you know you’re in for a relaxing week.
After unpacking, you and your spouse hop in the hot tub for a couple of drinks under the stars. Then you cook some dinner, snuggle up for a movie and head to bed for some private time.
Well… “private” might not be the best word for it.
There’s been someone observing you the entire time: your Airbnb hosts.
They’ve hidden cameras in nooks, crannies, and knick-knacks around the property. Those cameras provide your hosts with a live feed of everything you do.
Perhaps they’re motivated by paranoia, or maybe perversion, or just plain nosiness. Either way, the result is the same: you’re being spied on in your Airbnb.
You could simply not stay in Airbnbs anymore, but you’ve also got another option: search for recording devices before settling in.
And you don’t have to be James Bond to get the job done.
Here’s how to tell if your Airbnb host is spying on you – and, if so, what to do about it.
Do Airbnb Hosts Really Spy on Guests?
In a perfect world, people would be able to enjoy their vacation rentals in complete privacy.
But in the real world, that feeling of privacy is often just an illusion.
Every few weeks, another story pops up: an Airbnb stay turned into a nightmare by the discovery of hidden cameras.
And not just regular old security cameras, either. In Airbnbs, hidden cameras are frequently intended to capture guests in their most private moments.
Airbnb Spying Incidents
Take the Barker family, who found a camera hidden in the smoke detector in their Airbnb’s private living room.
The host reportedly denied the existence of the camera until shown irrefutable proof – talk about sketchy!
Or this couple from California, who rented a home described as “cozy and romantic” for a night.
But directly over that cozy and romantic bed, a smoke detector concealed a hidden camera.
According to the couple, one of the most disturbing parts was the fact that at least 24 people had stayed there before them. And presumably, none of them knew about the camera.
Not even Superhosts – supposedly the best of the best – can be fully trusted to respect their guests’ privacy. In China, a Superhost hid a camera in a router to spy on guests in bed.
That camera was only discovered because the guest happened to be a security expert. How long would the spying have continued if she hadn’t discovered it?
Without a doubt, one of the most terrifying cases of Airbnb spying involved the Gerdtses, a honeymooning couple from Delaware. At their Airbnb in Oregon, they found two cameras pointed at the bed.
The host admitted that he set up the cameras specifically to record the couple. Airbnb refunded them and put them up in another property for the rest of their trip.
But the damage had already been done. By the time the cameras were found, they had already recorded the couple being intimate.
Their honeymoon was ruined, and Madison Gerdts describes a newfound paranoia regarding hidden cameras that persists to this day.
What Is Airbnb’s Stance on Hidden Cameras?
Airbnb does allow hosts to install cameras and other recording devices on their property. But there are rules that must be followed when doing so.
Firstly, hosts must disclose all recording devices in the property listing – no exceptions.
Recording devices include security cameras (hidden or not), webcams, baby monitors, smartphones and nanny cams.
The disclosure rule applies whether or not the devices are operational. Even if that security camera hasn’t been plugged in since 2005, the host must still disclose its presence in the listing.
Hosts are also required to disclose in the listing which, if any, devices are actively recording.
Under Airbnb’s policy, if recording devices aren’t disclosed until after booking, the guest can cancel the reservation. A full refund will be given and the host may have to pay a cancellation penalty.
And some recording devices aren’t allowed, period.
Airbnb prohibits recording devices in bedrooms and bathrooms, whether or not they’re disclosed. These “private areas” must be free of all surveillance devices.
Despite these rules, it’s clear that some hosts simply don’t care.
They continue to record unsuspecting guests in private areas – and most of the time, they get away with it.
How Can I Find Out if My Airbnb Host Is Spying on Me?
It’s unfortunate that the burden of ensuring your Airbnb’s privacy falls on you, but that’s just how it is.
The majority of Airbnb hosts are honest, respectful individuals. But you still need to protect yourself against those who aren’t.
And as we’ve seen, positive reviews and Superhost badges don’t necessarily mean that you’re not being recorded in your Airbnb.
In a survey of 2,000 Airbnb guests, 58% stated that they worry about hidden cameras.
And that worry seems to be justified. 11% of those 2,000 guests said that they have found hidden cameras in Airbnb properties before.
Invasive, disrespectful and just plain terrifying – the exact opposite of what a vacation should be.
Next time you check into an Airbnb, follow these steps before getting settled in. They’ll help you locate hidden cameras and make sure you’re not being spied on.
Check and Double-Check the Listing
Airbnb requires all hosts to disclose all recording devices in their listings.
But there’s no consistent area where this disclosure occurs.
Some hosts disclose their recording devices in the listing description. Others include them in the “House Rules” section of the listing.
And, somewhat sneakily, a few hosts confine their recording device disclosures to the “Amenities” or “Safety Features” lists.
Read every section of the listing carefully, then read them again before booking. If you find a recording device and it turns out to have been disclosed, Airbnb won’t help you.
And check each and every photo carefully, too. If a camera is visible in one of the listing photos, Airbnb counts that as disclosure, even if it’s not mentioned in writing.
Photograph the Property Upon Arrival
You don’t need fancy gadgets to perform a cursory camera check. All you’ll need are your eyes – and a little common sense.
Once you arrive at the Airbnb, don’t unpack just yet. Walk the property inside and out, and take pictures of everything you can.
These photos will help you resolve any potential disputes about the condition you leave the property in. Should your host ask you why you left that smudge on the window, you’ll have proof that it was already there.
But your photos will also allow you to easily compare the Airbnb to the listing photos.
With a quick game of “spot the difference,” you can ensure that there aren’t any visible cameras that weren’t in the listing photos.
And if there are, you’ll have photographic proof to show Airbnb.
Look for Anything Out-of-Place
Make sure to look for more obvious hidden cameras as well. It sounds like an oxymoron, but some hidden cameras can be easily spotted because they look out of place.
As unpleasant as it sounds, it may help to put yourself in a creepy host’s shoes for a minute.
If you wanted to spy on your guests, where would you put a camera?
You’d probably point it at a bed, a shower or a bathtub. That’s where you’re most likely to find yourself with your guard down, naked and vulnerable.
So focus on those areas and check for common hidden camera disguises along with anything odd.
Are there two smoke detectors in that bedroom? There shouldn’t be – you only need one to know there’s a fire. Examine them for tiny camera lenses, checking inside the grilles as well.
Alarm clocks are common hiding spots for recording devices. Night lights and electrical outlets may actually be cameras, too.
Other popular camera locations include books, plants, stuffed animals, lampshades, blinds, picture frames, and pens.
Don’t forget to look for audio recording devices, too – they don’t need to be in plain view. They could be hidden in drawers, closets or cabinets, attached to the undersides of tables or nestled in vases.
If your host isn’t a particularly sophisticated spy, chances are these cursory searches will reveal the hidden devices.
But if you don’t find anything on your own, you’ll need to enlist some other technologies to complete your sweep.
Turn Out the Lights
Don’t worry, you won’t be spending your whole trip in the dark. But a few minutes could make a huge difference in your privacy.
Turn off all the lights and close the curtains. You want it as dark as possible for this step to work.
Once the room is blacked out, turn on a flashlight. A traditional flashlight or your phone will do – you just need a beam of light.
Now shine the light around the room and look carefully for any reflections that appear. In particular, look for tiny, round reflections that correspond to the size and shape of a camera lens.
Camera lenses will reflect the light, making them easy to spot.
Make sure to shine the light in heating vents and air conditioners – cameras may be hidden inside them.
Light up electronics like routers, thermostats, and speakers, too. Crafty hosts may hide cameras inside these otherwise innocuous devices.
You’re likely to get false positives from other reflective objects, but you may also find a hidden camera.
This is the best way to find hidden cameras that record to an SD card rather than using WiFi. Since they don’t emit any signals, they can’t be detected by other means – but they’re not immune to light.
If you frequently stay in Airbnbs, you may want to invest in a camera-locating device like Scout. Look through the device as you point it around the room and any hidden cameras will appear as red dots.
These types of hidden camera locators take advantage of the infrared filter found on most cameras.
When light hits that filter, it bounces back and appears red when viewed through the device’s viewfinder. The special tint lets you see the infrared light – a dead giveaway for a camera.
Scan the Airwaves
This is the most advanced way of finding hidden cameras in your Airbnb.
But don’t worry! It’s actually pretty simple once you understand it.
Remember the Barkers, the family who found a hidden camera in their Airbnb living room?
They did so because one of them, an infosec expert, used this method to locate it.
All you’ll need is a WiFi-enabled device, the Airbnb’s WiFi password and a free app. You can use your phone, tablet or laptop.
First, log into the Airbnb WiFi network. Make sure none of your other devices are on the network, only the one you’re using to find hidden cameras.
Then download a network scanning program.
These programs scan your network and display a list of all other devices on it. If a camera is recording you and sending the recording to your host via WiFi, you’ll find it in the list.
Run the program and let it perform its scan. Then scroll through the list of devices and see if you can pinpoint anything suspicious.
You can often determine which devices are spying on you based on their name. SAMSUNG-SMART-TV is probably fine; IPCAMERA isn’t.
Devices will also be labeled with their manufacturer, which can help you determine which ones are suspicious.
If your Airbnb has an Alexa speaker, for example, you can expect to see “Amazon” as a manufacturer on the list. But if you see one you don’t recognize, search for it and see what kinds of products it makes.
You may find that the mysterious manufacturer sells spy cameras or security equipment.
Sometimes, though, you may not find any devices with descriptive names or revealing manufacturers.
They may be labeled only with IP addresses, such as 192.168.0.29.
Write down those mystery IPs and read on. You’ll need to dig a little deeper to resolve their identities.
Detecting Hidden Cameras via Port Analysis
To find out whether an unlabeled device on your Airbnb WiFi is a hidden camera, you’ll need a port scanning app.
Install your port scanner app, then open it. Have it scan the IP address of the suspicious device you found in the network scanner list.
The app will then display a list of all open ports on the device.
Basically, different ports are used to transmit different types of communications and data. HTTP websites, torrents, games and, yes, security camera video streams each use their own distinct ports.
So by analyzing the open ports on your unknown device, you can determine what kind of device it is.
Each port will be labeled with a service – port 8080, for example, will be labeled “http-proxy.”
The service labels will help you determine whether the device is spying on you.
WiFi security cameras often use port 554 (RTSP) and 1935 (RTMP) for streaming video footage. If you see these on the port list, there’s probably a camera recording somewhere on the property.
Be aware that the exact port numbers may be different, but the services will remain the same. If you see RTSP or RTMP next to a different port number, it’s still likely a camera.
Look up other ports and services you find on a search engine to learn what they are. Different manufacturers may use different ports and services, so it’s important to be thorough.
Repeat the port scanning procedure for each unknown device on the network.
Use an RF Detector to Find Hidden Cameras
Maybe you’re not up for the technical task of scanning networks and ports.
Perhaps your Airbnb host has thwarted your network scanning by keeping the hidden cameras on a separate, hidden WiFi network.
Or maybe you’re worried about cameras too tiny to see, like those hidden in the heads of screws (yep, that’s a thing!)
Well, there’s still an easy way for the digitally-disinclined and the super-thorough to find even the tiniest hidden cameras.
All WiFi devices emit an RF signal – that’s how WiFi works. Though these signals are invisible, they can still be detected by specialized equipment.
For around $50, you can pick up a handheld RF scanner. Like a metal detector, the scanner tells you when you’re getting close to a device that’s emitting RF signals.
Walk around the property with the RF scanner, pointing it at various objects and in every direction. When it detects an RF signal, it’ll begin to beep and the signal strength indicator will light up.
Follow the detector until you’ve located the source of the signal.
Then take a close look for hidden cameras and recorders. Leave nothing unexamined, as they could be in anything.
Be aware that other devices, like microwaves, can cause the RF detector to go off. Avoid using electronics, small appliances and similar devices while scanning to avoid false positives.
What Should I Do if I Find a Hidden Camera in My Airbnb?
We certainly hope that all of your camera-detection efforts prove fruitless. This is one case where you don’t want to find what you’re looking for!
If your search didn’t turn up any spy gadgets, it’s time to relax and really begin your vacation. Enjoy your trip – bring us back a souvenir!
But if you’ve found a hidden camera or recording device in your Airbnb, unfortunately, you can’t kick back just yet.
You can contact the host if you wish, but you’re not likely to get a satisfactory resolution. They’ve already proven that they don’t care about Airbnb’s rules or your privacy.
For your privacy’s sake, we recommend following these steps if you find a hidden camera in your Airbnb.
Document, Document, Document
First, document your discovery as thoroughly as possible.
Take photos of the hidden device and record a video that shows its location. If you used an RF scanner to find the device, include it in the video as well.
Once you’ve gathered your proof, we recommend unplugging the device or blocking its view. Why be recorded any longer than necessary?
Get the Authorities Involved
Next, you may want to contact law enforcement.
In 11 states, recording cannot take place in a private space unless all parties agree to it. In those states, that hidden camera is almost certainly illegal.
Additionally, Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Kentucky, Louisiana, and Rhode Island all criminalize video voyeurism. Other states may also have similar laws.
Video voyeurism is defined as using a hidden camera to record sexual acts without consent. If you believe a hidden camera recorded you having sex in your Airbnb, contact the police.
Even if you’re not sure if a law has been violated, contacting law enforcement may be worth your while. There may be a little-known law regarding your situation, or the police may have other advice.
Seek Resolution from Airbnb
Finally, contact Airbnb. Include the photos and videos you took as proof and emphasize that the listing did not mention the recording device.
Airbnb is known to be somewhat wishy-washy about these issues. You may get a full refund and a new place, or the listing might just be temporarily removed.
If you aren’t happy with the resolution, don’t be afraid to fight it. Posting on social media about your experience will draw attention to the issue and put pressure on Airbnb to make it right.
Protecting Yourself Against Airbnb Spying with a VPN
Even if you follow all of our steps, there’s no guarantee that you’ll eliminate Airbnb spying.
Hosts don’t need hidden cameras and microphones to spy on you during your stay. They can monitor the Airbnb’s WiFi network and snoop on your online activity.
The sites you visit will be plainly visible, letting the host know things you might not want them to. Your preferred adult entertainment sites, news sources and more could be revealed.
If your host is the controlling type, you may find certain websites blocked by the router. A tool designed for keeping kids safe online could prevent you, an adult, from doing your thing as well.
And more malicious hosts could bug their WiFi with malware that steals your login credentials, credit card info and other data.
Bottom line: it’s nobody’s business what you do online, especially not your Airbnb host’s.
That’s why we recommend using a VPN when you use your Airbnb’s WiFi network.
A VPN encrypts your internet traffic and reroutes it to a single server of your choice. Your Airbnb host won’t be able to see the sites you visit – all they’ll see is traffic to and from that server.
Thanks to the encryption, any site blocks and data-stealing attempts will fail. Both of those depend on your internet traffic being plainly readable; if it’s not, they’re useless.
Your privacy is well worth the cost of a VPN, and it’ll continue protecting you long after you check out of your Airbnb.
What a Trip!
We’re still hopeful that, someday, we’ll be able to stay in Airbnbs without worrying about being spied on.
But until that day, the best we can do is stay vigilant about checking for hidden recording devices.
Nobody wants to spend their vacation looking for hidden cameras. But an hour of your time will give you the peace of mind you need to truly enjoy your stay.
Next time you book an Airbnb, follow this guide and assert your right to privacy. Good luck, and safe travels!
Summary: Worried about hidden cameras and microphones in your Airbnb? All you need is a smartphone to detect undisclosed recording devices and regain your privacy.