Airbnb Tries to Cover Up Security Camera Complaints – CNN Investigation

Take Skift

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

— Dennis Schaal

A months-long CNN investigation found that Airbnb was trying to keep thousands of complaints about properties with hidden 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, but also tries to keep complaints out of the courts and the public eye,” the news agency reported. It does so by requiring binding arbitration in the U.S. and often requiring nondisclosure agreements so guests can receive settlements, the investigation found. (See the embedded video below.)

Here are some of CNN’s findings:

  • An Airbnb investigator testified in a January 2023 deposition that between 2013 and 2023, Airbnb guests generated 35,000 customer service calls related to hidden security cameras or audio recording devices.
  • Authorities seized “thousands” of images from security cameras hidden in devices like smoke detectors, electrical outlets and alarm clocks, some of which showed guests having sex or in various states of undress, or using Airbnb bathrooms. Some of the devices can be operated remotely and streamed.
  • Airbnb generally does not notify police if it learns of a security camera or recording device in a room that violates Airbnb’s policies — even if the devices were recording children.
  • Airbnb contacts hosts when guests complain about illegal audio or video recording devices on the premises. But authorities told CNN they criticize the practice because it gives hosts the ability to destroy evidence and thwart investigations.
  • A former Airbnb guest told CNN that after staying at the Airbnb, he learned that there were hidden security cameras in every room, some of which were hidden in smoke detectors. The guest only learned about the devices when another guest found them and reported them to the police.
  • A Westbrook, Maine, host admitted to police that he installed a hidden security camera and took screenshots of a couple having sex.

Before Airbnb banned indoor security cameras in March, they were allowed in common areas of homes under certain conditions. Indoor security cameras had to be visible to guests, visible, and not located in private spaces.

Airbnb’s response

Airbnb has not directly denied many of the allegations made.

“In 2024, Airbnb adopted a policy banning security cameras from listings,” an Airbnb spokesperson said. “Last year, significantly fewer than 0.1% of stays globally resulted in any type of security report — let alone a security camera report — and when we receive an allegation, we take appropriate and swift action, which can include removing hosts and listings that violate our policies. Airbnb’s Trust and Safety Policy is a leader in the vacation rental industry and includes background checks for U.S. hosts and guests.”

As for the claim that there were 35,000 support calls about hidden cameras and recording devices, Airbnb points out that a single report can generate multiple support calls as the issue moves from one team member to another. Additionally, support calls about surveillance devices can involve anything from noise monitors to doorbell cameras.

While Airbnb does not generally contact law enforcement, the company says it helps guests file a police report if they choose to do so.

Once police notify Airbnb about a surveillance camera report, authorities often order Airbnb not to disclose certain information related to the investigation.

As for Airbnb’s terms requiring binding arbitration, the company points out that such requirements are common in consumer contracts, and that binding arbitration is cheaper and faster than lengthy court battles. There’s also nothing that prevents guests from making public statements about arbitration or lawsuits.

Hidden Surveillance Cameras Are Not Just an Airbnb Problem

The issue of hidden surveillance cameras in short-term rentals is, of course, not unique to Airbnb.

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

“Our policy prohibits any cameras that record the interior of the property, whether they are inside or outside,” an Expedia Group spokesperson said. “Vrbo also requires disclosure of exterior cameras, including additional disclosures if exterior cameras also record pools.”

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

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

The spokesman argued that the problem was not serious.

“While such incidents are rare, guests should contact our 24/7 customer support team if they find a surveillance device on property that violates this policy,” the spokesperson said. “Our Trust and Safety team actively investigates any complaints about bad actors and takes appropriate action, including permanently banning any host found to be violating our policies.”

Here is a CNN video about the investigation:

YouTube video player

Image Source: Westbrook, Maine police footage showing a hidden security camera in the bedroom of an Airbnb apartment.