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Airbnb Works to Keep Security Camera Complaints Hidden — CNN Investigation

Skift Take

Airbnb loves publicity, but not when it involves stories about hidden security cameras inside its properties.

A months-long CNN investigation found that Airbnb has worked to keep thousands of complaints about properties with hidden indoor security cameras out of the public domain. Airbnb banned indoor cameras in March.

“A CNN investigation found that Airbnb not only fails to protect its guests, it works to keep complaints out of the courts and away from the public,” the news outlet said. It does so by requiring binding arbitration in the U.S., and often requiring nondisclosure agreements for guests to receive settlements, the investigation found. [See video embedded below.]

Among CNN’s findings:

  • An Airbnb investigations employee testified in a deposition in January 2023 that Airbnb guests generated 35,000 customer support tickets related to hidden security cameras or audio recording devices from 2013-2023.
  • Authorities seized “thousands” of images from security cameras hidden in devices such as smoke detectors, electric outlets, and alarm clocks, some of which showed guests having sex or in various states of undress, or using bathrooms inside Airbnbs. Some of these devices can be operated remotely, and streamed.
  • As a rule, Airbnb fails to notify police when it learns there is an indoor security camera or recording device that violates Airbnb policies — even if these devices recorded children.
  • Airbnb does contact hosts when guests raise a complaint about illicit indoor audio or video recording devices. However, authorities told CNN they are critical of this practice because it gives hosts the opportunity to destroy evidence and thwart investigations.
  • A former Airbnb guest told CNN he found out after his Airbnb stay that every room had a hidden security camera, some of which were hidden in smoke detectors. The guest only learned of these devices when another guest found them and reported them to police.
  • A host in Westbrook, Maine admitted to police that he installed a hidden security camera and took screenshots of a couple having sex.

Prior to Airbnb’s ban on indoor security cameras in March, they had been allowed in common areas of homes under certain conditions. Indoor security cameras had to be disclosed to guests, visible, and not in private spaces.

Airbnb’s Response

Airbnb didn’t directly deny many of the allegations on the record.

“In 2024, Airbnb adopted a policy banning security cameras inside listings,” an Airbnb spokesperson said. “Last year, far less than 0.1% of stays globally resulted in any type of safety report to us — let alone a report related to a security camera — and when we do receive an allegation, we take appropriate, swift action, which can include removing hosts and listings that violate the policy. Airbnb’s trust and safety policies lead the vacation rental industry, and include background checks on US-based hosts and guests.”

Regarding the claim that there were 35,000 customer support tickets due to hidden cameras and recording devices, Airbnb points out that a single report can produce multiple support tickets as a case transitions from one team member to another. In addition, customer support tickets about surveillance devices might be about everything from noise monitors to doorbell cameras.

Although Airbnb doesn’t contact law enforcement as a rule, it said it helps guests make a police report if they choose to do so.

And when Airbnb gets notified by police about a surveillance camera complaint, authorities often mandate that Airbnb not disclose certain information about the investigation.

On the issue of Airbnb’s terms and conditions mandating binding arbitration, the company points out that such requirements are commonplace in consumer agreements, and binding arbitration is cheaper and quicker than drawn out court battles. In addition, there is nothing that bars guests from making public statements about arbitration or court filings.

Hidden Surveillance Cameras Not Just an Airbnb Problem

The hidden surveillance camera issue in short-term rentals is not just an Airbnb problem, of course.

Skift asked Expedia Group, which owns vacation rental brand Vrbo, how many complaints it receives about hidden security cameras, whether it tries to keep these issues out of the public eye through arbitration and non-disclosure agreements, and whether it reports these incidents to police.

“Our policy prohibits any cameras that capture the inside of a property, whether they are indoors or outdoors,” an Expedia Group spokesperson said. “Vrbo also requires disclosure of outdoor cameras, including additional disclosures if the outdoor cameras also capture pools.”

Like Airbnb, Vrbo requires disputes to be resolved through binding arbitration or in small claims court.

“We handle all cases individually and with great care and attention,” the Expedia Group spokesperson said. “We report situations to appropriate authorities when needed.”

The spokesperson argued that the issue isn’t a huge one.

“Although these occurrences are rare, guests should contact our 24/7 customer service team if they find a surveillance device at a property that violates this policy,” the spokesperson said. “Our trust and safety team actively investigates any complaints about bad actors and takes action accordingly, including permanently banning any host in violation of our policies.”

Here is a CNN video about its investigation:

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