Airbnbs and similar short-term, peer-to-peer home-sharing and vacation rental platforms like Vrbo offer guests amenities that traditional hotels often don’t, including living spaces, full kitchens, decked-out outdoor patios and even private hot tubs. The unique stay options like treehouses, yurts, tiny houses and more plus the wide availability of rentals (Airbnb operates in over 100,000 cities across 220 countries worldwide) make these alternatives an attractive choice, especially for families, groups of friends and people traveling with pets. But while Airbnb and Vrbo stays offer perks galore, could guests be sacrificing privacy?
Marcus Hutchins, who posts to TikTok under the handle @malwaretech, is a self-identified ex-hacker who now educates others on cybersecurity. He posts videos on issues ranging from what to know when using public Wi-Fi (shown below) to investigating common phishing scams, but his video about secret cameras in hotels and Airbnbs tapped into an anxiety that already existed for many travelers: paranoia about being watched.
@malwaretech Reply to @oliviaaa_gh ♬ original sound – Marcus Hutchins
According to a survey conducted by financial services company IPX 1031, 58% of Airbnb users report being concerned that property owners may have hidden cameras within their Airbnb.
Per Airbnb’s own privacy rules, security measures like cameras and noise monitoring devices are allowed on Airbnb rental properties as long as they are clearly disclosed in the listing description and don’t infringe on another person’s privacy. For example, a security camera that hosts have explicitly informed guests about may be used in a common space like a living room or kitchen.
They may not be used in places where there should be a reasonable expectation of privacy, such as bedrooms and bathrooms. While you can rest easy knowing that secret recording devices are prohibited by Airbnb — and could lead to hosts getting banned from the platform — it’s worth the extra peace of mind to do a quick walkthrough of any rental or hotel you’re staying in using Hutchins’ tips:
“Take this fire alarm, for instance, it’s placed right above the bed,” said Hutchins in the video. “Now one way to see if a device is a camera is to shine a bright light at it. If you hit a camera lens it’s going to get a blue-ish reflection.”
Other common hidden camera culprits shown in the video include alarm clocks and USB charging bricks.
For those looking for added security, Hutchins posted a video on portable locks and motion sensors you can pack and bring along on your travels:
@malwaretech Reply to @malwaretech Part 2: Hotel and AirBnB safety (portable door locks and camera) #security #safety #technology #travel ♬ original sound – Marcus Hutchins
The Washington Post compiled an article aimed at travelers to help them stay safe away from home. In it, they recommend scanning the Wi-Fi network for suspicious devices (or even turning the WiFi off altogether, if possible) and practicing situational awareness: pay attention to anything that feels “off” (such as two smoke detectors or an alarm but no alarm pad) and stay in an Airbnb with plenty of reviews. Also, do a “common sense” walkthrough when you arrive at your accommodations.
Traveling with these tips in mind will keep anxiety at bay so you can focus on the whole point of renting an Airbnb or Vrbo: taking a well-deserved vacation.