Renting a vacation property? How to find those hidden cameras…

US – In a recent post on popular tech website Kim Komando – aka ‘America’s Digital Goddess – a writer describes how during a recent vacation Komando rented a place through Airbnb. As she was looking around the house she noticed it had a number of wireless IP cameras installed in the common areas. And this raised some serious issues – here is what he said on the site:


“Experts often recommend indoor and outdoor wireless IP cameras as a good way to keep an eye on your house while you’re away. However, it’s not something you want to see when you’re staying in a stranger’s house. Is the owner watching you remotely? Are they recording you? If you don’t see any visible cameras, are there hidden cameras?

“This is actually turning into a big concern for vacation rentals as more people are finding hidden cameras in their rentals. In fact, Airbnb is currently in a lawsuit after a female renter found a hidden camera in the living room of the apartment she rented (PDF).

“The woman claims that she believed the apartment to be a private space, so she was frequently nude in the living room. Also, she and her travel companion discussed sensitive topics like finances and relationships that the camera microphone could have picked up.

“Airbnb’s stance on indoor cameras is summed up in its FAQs:

“We expect hosts to respect their guests’ privacy. You must notify your guests about any security cameras or other surveillance devices at or around your listing, and get consent where required.

“The use of surveillance equipment may also be against the law in some places, so make sure you understand your local regulations.

“Another vacation rental site, VRBO, doesn’t seem to discuss this problem at all. It does caution property owners to know the local laws and communicate with renters, but says nothing specific about cameras.

“However, neither of these statements are going to stop someone from putting up cameras. And aside from getting kicked out of the Airbnb program, there are no consequences for putting up cameras. But what about the law?

“Cameras come in all shapes and sizes. There are larger ones that look like cameras, which are easy to spot. Smaller cameras like the Nest Dropcam can slip behind furnishings, decorations or vents. Then there are spy cameras that hide in everyday objects like alarm clocks or digital picture frames.

“A simple way to spot most types of cameras is to look for the lens reflection. This requires turning off the lights and slowly scanning the room with a flashlight, or laser pointer, looking for bright reflections. It works even better if you’re looking through something like an empty roll of toilet paper because it narrows your focus. Be sure to scan the room from multiple spots so you don’t miss a camera pointed only at certain places.

“You should also do a close visual inspection of the vents, as well as any holes or gaps in the walls or ceilings. Fortunately, for a camera to see you, you have to be able to see it as well, so it can’t be entirely hidden.

“There are gadgets on the market that are geared specifically toward lens detection, like the Brickhouse Security Mini Hidden Camera Detector. It’s US $100 and it uses flashing red LEDs for better detection. Brickhouse makes other gadgets that use lasers instead of LEDs and have other fancy features, but those get up into the $500 range and are mainly meant for law enforcement.

“In addition to lens detection, you can also get an RF detector. This can pick up wireless cameras within 10 feet or so. Some of the expensive ones even have screens to show you what the camera is seeing. Unfortunately, RF detectors aren’t great for wired or record-only cameras. For those you’ll need to stick with the lens reflection method.

“You can find RF detectors for under $30, but the quality is suspect. Brickhouse makes a basic model that sells for $70. It also has a model for $140 that combines an RF detector with a lens-reflection detector.

“If you can connect to the rental’s wireless network, you can use a program like Wireless Network Watcher to see what gadgets are connected. You might be able to spot connected cameras. Just be aware that the owner might have put the cameras on a second network, or they could be wired or record-only types.”

By Justin Ferris