Use of recording devices are not a breach of Airbnb rules

Strict conditions apply to using recording devices

While news that a family from New Zealand found a hidden camera which was apparently live streaming footage from their accommodation in Cork is disturbing, recording devices are not actually a breach of Airbnb rules.

There are strict conditions attached to their use however and the accommodation sharing platform’s insist that all homeowners who have such devices have to be up-front about them whether they are in use or not.

“Our standards and expectations require that all members of the Airbnb community respect each other’s privacy,” the relevant terms and conditions start.

“More specifically, we require hosts to disclose all surveillance devices in their listings and we prohibit any surveillance devices that are in or that observe the interior of certain private spaces (such as bedrooms and bathrooms) regardless of whether they’ve been disclosed.”


The rules go on to say that hosts with “any type of surveillance device in or around a listing, even if it’s not turned on or hooked up” must “indicate its presence in your house rules”. The site also insists that hosts “disclose if an active recording is taking place. If a host discloses the device after booking, Airbnb will allow the guest to cancel the reservation and receive a refund. Host cancellation penalties may apply.”

The site also outlines what is considered a surveillance device. It is “any mechanism that can be used to capture or transmit audio, video, or still images” and includes “but is not limited to things like wifi cameras (e.g. Nest Cam or Dropcam), nanny cameras, web cameras in computer monitors, baby monitors, mounted or installed surveillance systems, decibel and device monitors, and smart phones with video and/or audio recording capabilities.”

While the rules are strict, Airbnb hosts have been known to break them in countries all over the world.

Camera in clock

In recent times a British couple said they had found a hidden camera in a digital clock in the bedroom of an Airbnb rental in Toronto.

Last October, a couple staying in a Florida Airbnb noticed something odd about a smoke detector above their bed. When they looked more closely they realised that it was a hidden camera connected to an SD card.

Earlier this month a California couple booked a one-night stay in an Airbn close to their home . It was described in the listing as "cosy and romantic" but according to a local television station the couple pair found a hidden camera disguised as a smoke detector, again over the bed. The camera was not turned on but its mere presence in the room was a breach of the Airbnb rules.

Last month, Atlantic magazine wrote a lengthy piece about the issue of covert surveillance in Airbnb accommodation and highlighted multiple examples of breaches of the companies terms and conditions. One of the stories detailed how a US guest staying in an Airbnb in Bulgaria was horrified when he came across "a type of camera that could be remotely controlled to pan, tilt, and zoom in on anything it sees".

According to the Atlantic article the “expanded field of view meant that while the camera was in the living room, it could discreetly follow guests from room to room.”

TJ McIntyre, a law lecturer at UCD and chair of the privacy rights group Digital Rights Ireland, said filming someone without their knowledge is a clear breach of data protection law.

“The most fundamental principle of data protection law is that individuals have information as to what information you are collecting about them and how you are doing that,” he said.

“Any sort of covert filming is very clearly in breach of the GDPR (General Data Protection Legislation) and there will be an important test here for the Data Protection Commissioner (DPC), if these facts are proven, whether a substantial fine is levied on this individual.”

Mr McIntyre the DPC has the power to issues fines up to €20 million, but that size of fine is more geared towards tech giants than individuals.

There is also the issue of criminal offences. Mr McIntyre said there have been cases in Ireland in the past where landlords who have fitted hidden cameras to spy on tenants were found guilty of harassment.

“If we have a situation were cameras were installed in private areas, such as bedrooms or bathrooms, I would expect that to be a matter for the police as well,” he told RTÉ Radio.

The responsibility of Airbnb will depend on the exact relationship between the company and the host, said Mr McIntyre, but there could also be issues under consumer law.

In the Cork case, Nealie Barker whose family discovered the camera told The Irish Times they “ we’re trying to preserve a cordial relationship with the host rather than level criminal charges at him.

“We don’t know him, he could be a lovely guy whose just made a serious error of judgement?”