Should You Be Worried About Hidden Cameras in Airbnbs?

A viral tweet sparked a debate about safety, but it’s not the whole story

An Airbnb app as it appears on a mobile phone, with a bed in the background
Should you choose a hotel instead of an Airbnb next time you travel?

“BE CAUTIOUS BOOKING AIR BNBs! My friend & I recently stayed at a air bnb in Philadelphia with over 10 hidden cameras all over the house. Including the showers and bedrooms. Some were disguised as sprinkler systems but it has a camera lens,” user @foxytaughtyou tweeted on June 12, alongside two photos of the alleged sprinkler-cams.

The post, which currently has over 60,000 retweets and over 300,000 likes, ignited a lively discourse surrounding host malpractice and guest safety. Even when, 48 hours later, an Airbnb rep told TMZ that a detective with the Philadelphia Police Department had “[c]onfirmed that he did not find any hidden or undisclosed cameras and that the fire sprinklers had regular sprinkler heads,” and that the case was set to be closed, the conversation continued.

“Maybe you should just get a hotel room and avoid this mess. AirBnBs are ruining the housing markets, rent prices, and neighborhoods. People who keep getting AirBnBs instead of hotels are the reason for this,” one Twitter user posited. “I mean its just cheaper. I tried renting a hotel for 1 month and it was gonna cost me 13k… Air bnb was 3k for the month,” another quipped.

Likely in response to the initial post, a second tweet began making the rounds encouraging Airbnb users to utilize Fing, an app that allows you to see all the devices connected to the wifi. “[G]irlies that use airbnb, download the app [Fing]. It shows you everything in the home ur in that is connected to the wifi 🙂 it helped my friends and i realize our host was recording our sound levels in secret to try and charge us extra lol. Also shows cameras in the home!” @howietrbl wrote.

On the same day as the initial tweet, Gary Leff of View From the Wing published a (seemingly unrelated) piece called “Why Uber Is Great And Airbnb Is Awful.” “Airbnb is awful. It’s full of scammers, it’s often more expensive than hotels, and of course you pay a cleaning fee but still have to clean the place yourself,” Leff wrote. “Plus when you’re renting a specific unit rather than one of many, and the owner wants to turn that unit over without missing a night, it’s tough to do anything than 10 a.m. checkout and 4 p.m. check-in with enough time for cleaning in-between.”

So, is Airbnb really as bad and unsafe as the internet would have you believe? In my opinion: No.

Sure, it’s got its pitfalls and there are a number of kinks to be worked out, but all in all, I believe the vast majority of individual hosts are well-intentioned people who rely on the platform for income. Are some of the fees a little predatory? Yes. Is it as flexible as it purports to be? Hardly. But it is a more viable option for families and, as Gilbert Ott of God Save the Points points out, it’s also helping to curb overtourism by inspiring people to stay in places they wouldn’t have known about or considered otherwise.

And for those concerned with security, it bears mentioning that a lot of the issues that have arisen lately are not exclusive to Airbnb. There have been cases of hidden cameras in hotel rooms. The fact is, travel requires due diligence and a level of awareness where safety is involved.

That said, coincidentally this week Airbnb rolled out a series of updates geared towards enhancing safety for solo travelers, who account for 26% of all nights booked in 2021 and 50% of nights booked for long-term stays during the first quarter of 2022. Going forward, when a solo guest makes a reservation, it will trigger a specialized in-app experience, which supplies the traveler with expert tips, a shareable itinerary and suggested questions to ask the host.

“Our hope is this new product will better equip solo travelers on Airbnb to be more informed travelers by getting their pre-trip questions answered, giving them a better understanding of their surroundings, and informing the important people in their lives about where they will be and for how long,” Airbnb said in a statement.

Another thing worth mentioning? Sometimes a sprinkler truly is just a sprinkler.


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