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It’s straight out of a nightmare. You’re staying in an Airbnb with your partner on a romantic getaway, and discover as you’re packing up to leave that a hidden camera placed in the bedroom captured your every move. 

What to do? Well, immediately call the police. However, by that point, you’ve already become the victim of a privacy-invading creep. Inspecting your rental for recording devices when you check in, on the other hand, has the potential to both give you some peace of mind and stop any extreme violation before it happens. 

Unfortunately, this has become a thing we all (not just heads of state) need to be aware of. On November 27, Jason Scott of the Internet Archive posted to Twitter that his colleague had spotted a suspicious “motion detector” on his Airbnb’s bedroom wall. When he looked closer, well, it turned out the device was actually a concealed webcam. 

This is not an isolated incident. As ABC Action News reported this past October, a couple staying in a Florida Airbnb noticed something odd about a smoke detector above the bed. Upon inspection, it turned out to be a hidden camera saving to a SD card. 

And while surreptitiously recording one’s renters in the bedroom is both against Airbnb’s rules and illegal, the kind of person that would do such a thing likely isn’t a stickler for the fine print. 

So what, if anything, can you do about this? Not stay in Airbnbs? Well, sure, but this invasion of privacy can happen in hotels, too. Another approach would be to check especially private areas of rentals, like the bedroom and bathroom, for recording devices. Clearly, you’re not a trained intelligence operative, and there is no surefire way for a casual vacationer to identify every type of hidden camera that exists. However, that doesn’t mean there aren’t steps you can take to better ensure your privacy while relaxing in your quaint rental. 

Knowing where to look

There are a few ways to start hunting around for cameras while in your Airbnb — some more technical than others. Perhaps the most straightforward approach is with your eyes and common sense. Is there only one motion sensor in the entire house, and it just happens to be facing the bed? That, as Scott pointed out above, is suspicious. 

Or perhaps there is a smoke detector above the bed — a good thing, usually. But, upon closer inspection, it has an oddly placed black circle that looks like a lens? Feel free to pop that thing off the ceiling (be careful not to break it), and take a detailed look. Does it have a SD card slot? Yeah, a normal smoke detector shouldn’t have that. 

But there are other places a camera could be as well. See an alarm clock in the bedroom? When is the last time anyone actually used one of those? Seemingly everyone has smartphones these days, after all, which double as alarms. Look up the brand and model number online to see if that triggers any alarm bells. If you’re in doubt, pull out the batteries, turn the clock around, and place a towel over it for the night. 

Cameras can also be hidden in coat racks, fake screws, and all kinds of other places (feeling paranoid yet?). Basically, anyone is just an Amazon click away from being a super creep. However, that distressing fact also gives you an edge. 

“[Most] people, especially normal people who run Airbnb rentals — aren’t intelligence agencies, aren’t spies, and very likely will not be spending tens of thousands of dollars on in-wall, plastered, $10,000+ dollar surveillance gear to spy on randoms,” security researcher and pen-tester Dan Tentler told Mashable over email. “They’re going to go to Amazon or some ‘spy store’ and buy something for a few hundred dollars — a USB charger that looks like a camera, or like in the tweet that got all the attention, a fake motion detector.”

Why is this a good thing? Well, it means you actually have a chance of spotting a concealed device. 

Some tricks

Notably, there are two main types of surveillance cams you’d find in a home: those that record locally and those that are connected to the internet. If you’re worried about the latter, you can take a technical approach to rooting them out. 

Scanning the host’s Wi-Fi network for internet-connected cameras is actually pretty straightforward using a free network scanner like Fing. This might alert you to the presence of a wireless camera somewhere in the house. Now, importantly, the host might have one on the exterior of the house pointing outside as a general security precaution — however you should be able to confirm that pretty easily. 



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