Is Your Hotel or AirBnB Spying on You?

PHOTO: Takerisks/Shutterstock

How seemingly everyday objects are assisting in the invasion of privacy.

Have you ever found a random USB charger in a hotel room and thought “How lucky, someone left their charger and now it’s mine!”? Have you ever plugged your phone into the USB of an alarm clock and said, “I’m so glad this hotel or guest house made my life easier with this bedside technology!”? Have you ever looked up at a smoke detector and said, “Thank god that’s there in case of a fire, I’ll be protected!”?

Well, here’s some bad news: all of those items can be, and possibly are, hidden cameras that are watching you, recording you, spying on you, and violating you. And the worst part, these disguised cameras are only sometimes illegal. Don’t believe us? Do a simple Amazon search and prepare to be frightened by the amount of spying equipment you can get two-day shipping on. There are hidden cameras in wall outlets, clocks, picture frames, clothes hooks, pens, and so much more.

Now, as to whether or not you, a world traveler, should worry depends on where exactly you’re staying. In Airbnbs around the world, it’s totally acceptable for the host to have hidden cameras in common spaces (kitchens, living rooms, etc.). The bedroom and bathroom are off-limits and the host is required to disclose the location of any and all cameras; but, sometimes they don’t and sometimes you’ll forget what they told you as you make coffee naked first thing in the morning or decide to engage in intimate activity with your significant other on the living room couch.

To make matters even worse (possibly), AirBnb is now pushing a range of devices to hosts to help them protect their property through various surveillance methods. The devices are being used for “party prevention” and can monitor noise, motion, and even temperature in the property. The idea is to help be a good neighbor and report on loud sustained noises and parties. The caveat, the devices must be out in the open and not in bedrooms and bathrooms. Okay AirBnb.

The home booking site VRBO is a little better, as their policy strictly prohibits their partners from using ANY surveillance equipment inside the property. HomeAway, another home booking site, is a little less reassuring as their privacy policy simply states: “Be mindful of your guests’ privacy—let your guests know if your property has security cameras or other surveillance systems. No one likes to be snooped on!” Yikes.

If you stay in a hotel, it’s a bit safer as cameras are very rarely found in guest rooms. However, be very suspicious of any “left-behinds” that you might think you were lucky to find, as the “forgotten” charger could be a disguised camera. Internationally though, hotels and their camera policies can be very different. Just ask these hundreds of motel guests who were secretly recorded in South Korea.

So, what are you supposed to do? You’re not going to stop traveling, but you do want to protect yourself. According to camera security expert Randy Andrews, start by looking for red flags. “Look for anything that’s out of place. If the clock radio is pointing towards the bed or in the bathroom or in an unusual place. Inspect the device, turn it over. See if there are any panels on it. These hidden cameras come pre-embedded in many of these devices including shampoo bottles, USB chargers, 110 outlets, and Bluetooth speakers. Also, look for an SD card slot as most cameras record on board with an SD card for days or weeks.”

Another option is to download Andrews’s app, the Hidden Camera Detector, and scan your room the moment you arrive. The app can detect wireless signatures, infrared devices, sound frequencies, and, of course, all the camera lenses.

Be prepared and be smart when you travel. Look for anything out of the ordinary, know how to find disguised cameras, and call the police if you find a hidden lens that’s watching and recording you.

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