Airbnb Just Banned Security Cameras Inside Rentals

The new indoor-camera ban takes effect April 30, but it’s unclear how much will change under the updated privacy policy.

A white round security or monitor camera

Much of the issue comes down to whether (banned) hidden cameras will continue to be a problem.

Photo by daniel/Unsplash

For Meg St-Esprit, seeing cameras inside Airbnb vacation homes she has stayed at with her husband and their four kids “creeped me out.” The Pittsburgh-based writer says a newly implemented camera ban is smart, adding that Airbnb hosts are already “micromanaging guests’ stays,” by enforcing their “lengthy list of expectations” around how the space should be cleaned and handled (St-Esprit says she doesn’t need to be told to empty used Keurig pods from the machine), and cameras felt like an extension of that.

St-Esprit, who sometimes selects Airbnbs and sometimes hotels for her family’s travels, says she feels “more comfortable now knowing that we don’t have to worry about hidden cameras,” although according to Airbnb’s previous policy, hosts were already required to disclose whether or not they have cameras surveilling their space.

But Airbnb’s announcement on Monday that it’s updating its security-camera policy in an effort “to continue to prioritize the privacy of our community” claims the newly implemented ban simplifies its approach and makes it clear that “security cameras are not allowed inside listings, regardless of their location, purpose, or prior disclosure.” The company also says that the “update is expected to impact a smaller subset of listings on the platform.”

Boston University’s Makarand Mody, an associate professor of hospitality marketing, points out that and Vrbo, similar short-term rental platforms, have had policies prohibiting security cameras inside properties for a while now. “Airbnb, in effect, is a little bit late to the game when it comes to banning indoor cameras,” says Mody, who has conducted extensive research on Airbnb and the larger segment of short-term rentals.

So while this move puts Airbnb “on par with the industry standard,” according to Mody, it “won’t do much to curb all of the other issues that Airbnb has around hidden cameras.” Hosts that install hidden cameras, says Mody, likely have a “malicious intent.” If they didn’t declare the camera before, when Airbnb explicitly banned using hidden cameras without notifying guests, they won’t do it now, Mody says.

St-Esprit says she’s often wondered whether her family’s Airbnb stays have been in homes with “disguised nanny cams.” She’s suspicious of one place in West Virginia that had so much home tech equipment that St-Esprit was inclined to believe there was a hidden camera watching her family’s every move. “I just wondered the whole time,” says St-Esprit.

If it’s true, as Mody suggests, that hidden cameras will simply stay hidden in spite of the ban—even in private areas like bedrooms and bathrooms—then St-Esprit and other guests may not be safe from surveillance. An Airbnb spokesperson insists this issue is “exceptionally rare.”

Caitlin Kapoor, who will be staying in an Airbnb with her family in just a couple of weeks, is vehemently against cameras in short-term rentals and checks listings for this information before booking. Kapoor, a health and wellness coach in Pennsylvania, often chooses Airbnbs over standard hotel rooms because she likes to have a kitchen—“we don’t need to eat at restaurants three times a day for a week”—but says the idea of having a camera watching her every move makes her uncomfortable and would create a “weird energy” not in line with the vacation she’s after.

The reason for Airbnb’s camera ban at this moment in time is unclear. Guests are more accepting of security cameras in hotel common areas because they serve to “enhance the perception of safety,” whereas in a short-term rental, surveillance is “seen as an invasion of privacy,” explains Mody.

An Airbnb spokesperson tells AFAR the company is “deploying this updated policy after a process of extensive consultation with guests, hosts, privacy experts, and advocacy groups.”

Not all hosts are pleased with Airbnb’s policy update, though.

Airbnb host Michael Soud reached out to Airbnb immediately after hearing about the ban. In his heritage home in the greater London area, which he rents remotely, never meeting guests or exchanging keys, Soud, a venture capital attorney and co-founder of the website Travel Insighter, once discovered a booking for three people had turned into six without his knowledge or approval.

“The only way I knew was through the camera,” he says of the device he has in the entryway of his home. Soud asked Airbnb to deem his camera “an outside one” so that he can continue to host from afar and be aware of who is coming and going. But unless the company makes an unlikely exception, according to the new global policy, which is effective April 30, 2024, Soud will have to remove the camera—or the Airbnb listing.

Nils Mattisson, co-founder and CEO of noise-monitoring device Minut, applauds the move, telling AFAR that, “using cameras inside rentals was not only controversial but overkill by owners in most cases.”

“Airbnb’s decision is a game changer for guest privacy and safety because there’s no longer any doubt over whether and where cameras can be placed in rentals,” adds Mattisson.

But Mody doesn’t think the camera ban will attract hesitant Airbnb guests: “If somebody is truly concerned that there’s going to be hidden cameras, I don’t think this is going to really change their mind toward Airbnb.”

Prior to becoming a full-time freelancer, Stacey Lastoe won an Emmy for her work on Anthony Bourdain’s Little Los Angeles while working as a senior editor at CNN. In addition to freelance editing gigs at Red Ventures and Fodor’s Travel, Stacey writes for a variety of publications, including The New York Times, The Washington Post, The New York Post, Travel + Leisure, Food & Wine, and Robb Report. She splits her time between Brooklyn and Vermont.
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