I have used Airbnb a few times and, most recently, encountered a privacy issue I think many people are unaware of Airbnb’s policy on. I have only stayed at one AirBNB prior to the most recent that had security cameras. That home had a camera at the front door which covered the street-facing front yard and front door, which I thought was fine. The most recent Airbnb I stayed at, in Los Angeles, noted that it, too, had security cameras in the description and I assumed that it would be similar to the one prior - covering public facing areas. Not so. After I arrived at the house, I ultimately found 5 cameras. One was expected - covering the front lawn which faced the public street. Two, however, were inside, covering the living room and hallway which were directed against the wall, however, I could not be certain whether they had audio capability. Two more were in the otherwise very private, secluded backyard which was surrounded by fences and high privacy hedges. One camera was trained in the swimming pool there, the other directly on the couch in the covered area. Photos of some of the security feeds are below.
I was horrified as I have a reasonable expectation of privacy in a fenced, shrubbed-in pool and sitting area where I might want to sunbathe or relax in private. These cameras were covering private aspects of my life in non-public areas in which any reasonable person would expect to have privacy. My husband contacted the hosts and asked if the cameras were recording, taking still photos, broadcasting, or otherwise making those livestreams available to 3rd parties, noting he expressly did not consent to us being streamed, photographed or recorded. The hosts responded evasively, stating only that we were being “livestreamed” and then writing that the interior cameras had been turned off and that they’d disclosed on the property description that the property had security cameras. We again asked if the streams were available to 3rd parties, were recording, etc. No response. We looked up Airbnb’s policy which is, apparently, that your hosts CAN record you - inside and out - except in the bathroom and bedroom. That is a serious violation of privacy, particularly without full, upfront disclosure of exactly which areas are under surveillance, who has access to that surveillance and whether and for how long stills or other recorded footage are retained and who has access to them. Informed, written consent should also be an absolute must to protect both guest AND host.
Airbnb is not only allowing an unacceptable invasion of users’ privacy, but opening itself up to tremendous liability. For example, let’s say my spouse and I brought our hypothetical 16 year old son and his hypothetical girlfriend and they went out and used the pool and the 16-yr old girlfriend sunbathed topless. Now the hosts technically have child pornography - images of a topless 16-yr old. Or, say they had sex on the couch, thinking they were in a private place. Now, the hosts have even more serious child pornography and they might have these images or videos forever, with carte blanche (per Airbnb’s apparent policy) to watch them, show them - or even sell them - to whoever they want.
Once we figured out cameras were on us, we no longer felt particularly comfortable playing in the pool or relaxing on the couches. It felt creepy to know some stranger or strangers could be watching us at any given moment. We obviously will not stay there again but, on a more macro level, we are now leery of staying at any Airbnb property if this is Airbnb’s policy. If Airbnb is going to allow such extensive guest surveillance, at a bare minimum, it should require thoroughly informed consent before booking. Guests should be aware they’re being watched, photographed and/or recorded before they pay and they should have the right to insist upon the erasure of the images immediately after their stay. Security cameras should be for security in public facing areas. The cameras trained onto a couch are not there for security. At best, they are there to be able to hold a guest who damages the couch or otherwise breaks some host rule on the couch liable. Privacy interests of the guest vastly outweigh the host’s interest in protecting her or his couch from stains. That type of damage is easily addressed by doing a walk through before and after a stay - similar to any time one rents a car or stays in a hotel room.
I am appalled by Airbnb’s policy and, to put it mildly, had my holiday negatively impacted. I am now worried about images of me in private moments floating about the internet and, of course, my use and enjoyment of the property was severely curtailed once I figured out where all the cameras were and how much coverage there was.
I reached out to Airbnb and await a response.