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The growth of vacation rental platforms like Airbnb has rapidly altered the way we travel, but there may also be negative consequences.
Numerous accounts of vacationers discovering concealed cameras in leased accommodations have sparked concerns over the security of staying in an unfamiliar person’s dwelling in recent times.
In November, 41-year-old Ian Timbrell discovered a hidden camera wedged between the cushions of a sofa in the Airbnb rental he had reserved.
He took to Twitter/X to share his experience, sharing a picture of himself pointing at the camera. In the caption, he asked if it was normal or strange that his Airbnb had a webcam monitoring the living room. He also questioned if it was wrong for him to unplug it, as he believed it was a violation of his privacy.
In October 2023, a pair of newlyweds on their honeymoon in Malaysia, originating from China, reported that their stay at an Airbnb homestay was interrupted due to their discovery of a concealed camera aimed at their bed. They asserted that the camera had been intentionally hidden.
Writing on Chinese social media platform Xiaohongshu under the name “Zhenmei Beauty,” the couple said the alleged camera was installed inside a wall power socket at the house in Kota Kinabalu, Sabah.
According to the South China Morning Post, the discovery of the apparent device has sparked a police investigation and resulted in travel advisories. Experts have also provided advice on how to prevent being monitored while on vacation.
In July 2023, there was a similar occurrence where a couple sued an Airbnb host for $75,000. They claimed to have discovered hidden cameras recording them during their stay.
A couple from Texas, Kayelee Gates and her fiancé Christian Capraro, stayed at a vacation rental owned by Christoper Goisse in Silver Springs, Maryland in August 2022. While engaging in private activities in the bathroom, they discovered hidden cameras recording them. They then moved to the main room, where they laid down on the bed, turned on a movie, and started to unwind. However, when they looked up at the ceiling, they noticed two smoke detectors, one above the bed and one in the corner.
As they approached to examine the devices, they discovered what seemed to be cameras cleverly disguised and were certain they had discovered another one in the bathroom. They removed one of the devices in the bedroom and claimed to have found a recording camera. Ms. Gates expressed feeling “ashamed, embarrassed, and disrespected” following the incident.
Should we now be checking for cameras in our vacation rental? If yes, how should we do it?
“According to Keith Roberts, an Advanced Sweeping technician who specializes in bug detection for both individuals and businesses, it is important to remain aware of the potential for danger. He warns that there are malicious individuals in society.”
According to him, Advanced Sweeping has noticed a growing number of hidden cameras in recent years.
“Surveillance equipment, including cameras and listening devices, has become increasingly common in today’s society. In the past, they were only accessible through a limited market and required connections to obtain. However, they are now readily available for purchase by anyone on popular online platforms such as Amazon and eBay.”
Roberts recommends hiring a professional company for confirmation of not being recorded, but there are measures that a non-expert can take to detect hidden cameras.
Look around you
Roberts suggests searching for small openings when inspecting cameras, as that is where the lens is typically located. It is important to check everyday objects such as the back of books, mirrors, light bulbs, and house plants. Places that make sense to search would be areas where someone might hide a recording device, like in a living room. However, if the intention was to spy, it is likely that the camera would be placed in more private spaces like the bathroom, shower room or bedroom.
“Examine locations with optimal visibility that are unlikely to have any obstructions. Typically, the camera will be positioned at a high vantage point to capture the most footage.”
Shine a torch
You don’t have to possess the skills of Inspector Gadget to effectively search for hidden cameras. A simple flashlight, like the one on your phone, can get the job done. According to Roberts, shining a flashlight around the room can accurately detect 92 to 95 percent of camera lenses. Make sure to turn off all lights and slowly scan every corner of the room – any camera lenses will reflect the light back.
Check the mirror
Concerned about the possibility of the mirror being a two-way? There is an easy method to verify. According to Roberts, “The fingernail test may be outdated, but it remains effective.” Place your fingernail against the glass. In a legitimate mirror, you will not be able to touch your finger in the reflection. However, if you can, this indicates that it is a two-way mirror.
Consider purchasing a detector.
Although Advanced Sweeping invests large sums of money in advanced device detectors, there are also more affordable options available for purchase. According to Roberts, there are lens detectors on the market that professionals use, with the least expensive options priced at around £40 to £50. For added reassurance, it may be worthwhile to make this investment.
Scan for webcams
There are two primary categories of surveillance cameras: those that save footage onto an SD card and those that are linked to the internet. To locate internet-connected webcams, one can search for them by connecting to the host’s wi-fi and utilizing a complimentary network scanning tool. In reply to Jason Scott’s recent story about camera surveillance, Dr. Adam Glen posted on Twitter: “Usually, hosts permit access to their local network through wi-fi. Use @fingapp to scan for IP cameras on the network. While not entirely foolproof, this method can provide an indication.”
If you happen to notice something unusual (considering the possibility that the owner has authorized surveillance cameras on the property), disconnect the internet router to ensure you are not being monitored.
If you happen to come across a concealed camera, do not just express your dissatisfaction to the booking company. Instead, inform the police.