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Airbnb to ban hosts from using indoor security cameras in rental properties

Airbnb said Monday that it’s banning the use of indoor security cameras in listings on its site around the world by the end of next month.

The San Francisco-based online rental platform said it is seeking to “simplify” its security-camera policy while prioritizing privacy.

“These changes were made in consultation with our guests, hosts and privacy experts, and we’ll continue to seek feedback to help ensure our policies work for our global community,” Juniper Downs, Airbnb’s head of community policy and partnerships, said in a prepared statement.

Airbnb had allowed the use of indoor security cameras in common areas, as long as the locations of the cameras were disclosed on the listings page.

Under the new policy, hosts will still be allowed to use doorbell cameras and noise-decibel monitors, which are only allowed in common spaces, as long as the location and presence of the devices are disclosed.

Airbnb expects the policy update to impact a small number of hosts because the majority of its listings do not report having indoor security cameras.

The policy change will take effect April 30. In its fourth-quarter earnings report last month, Airbnb said its bookings and revenue rose, and the company said demand remains strong.

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Privacy over security

Airbnb’s policy update is a good step in the right direction, said Ann Cavoukian, a former Ontario privacy commissioner. 

While she understands property owners wanting to ensure their homes or rental units are secure, she said that doesn’t supersede a guest’s right to privacy.

“Cameras pose hidden risks all the time,” she told CBC News in a phone interview from Scottsdale, Ariz. 

It’s not only a matter of a guest having their Airbnb host listening in on their personal conversations or watching their private activities, she said, but there is also the concern of a third party gaining access to that camera’s feeds and recordings.

A portrait of a woman with glasses gazing into the camera.
Former Ontario privacy commissioner Ann Cavoukian is pleased with Airbnb’s policy change regarding indoor security cameras and is encouraging other vacation rental companies to follow suit if they don’t already have similar rules in place. (Dave MacIntosh/CBC)

“It is amazing how brilliant the hackers are today, and they’re gaining access to video, to audio, to all kinds of information that they’re not supposed to have access to,” she said.

“The risks you take in putting in security cameras or any of these devices are significant because you can’t just assume that those people who put the camera in [are] gonna be the only ones viewing it.” 

If a host has concerns about the security of their property, she said they should interview their potential guests before they consider renting to them. The same goes for guests who have concerns about their privacy when choosing a rental, she said. 

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A hidden problem to deal with

The new policy won’t be able to do much to prevent hidden cameras from being installed in an Airbnb property, said Cavoukian.

Hidden cameras are “strictly prohibited” under Airbnb’s policies, but cases of guests uncovering them have been reported

She urges anyone who finds such a device in their vacation rental to remove it and to notify police. 

Unfortunately, she said, the consequences for covertly recording someone are often minimal. 

She encourages guests to ask their potential hosts about any and all cameras on the property and get assurances that they’re not being recorded. 

Although there are no guarantees, she said doing so may make the owners reconsider using such devices.

“Privacy forms the foundation of our freedom,” she said. “We cannot give up on it just because there are all these technological advances.”

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