Airbnb's policy on recording guests is clear: hosts are allowed to have cameras on their property — but only if the devices aren't in bathrooms or rooms where guests sleep, and only if they give guests a chance to consent before they book a listing.
But the company has repeatedly bungled its response to hosts who don't adhere to the policy in a way that makes it seem more worried about bad press than guest safety — missteps that raise questions about gig economy platforms' incentives to properly regulate their workers.
Guest of Horror
On Friday, Sky News published a grim story recounting the experience of a New Zealand family that discovered their Airbnb host in Ireland was not only recording them in secret — but livestreaming the feed.
"We were all looking at ourselves on [my husband's] phone," Nealie Barker told Sky News. "I had one of those horrible adrenaline rushes you get when you sense danger."
But weeks later, Airbnb told the family it had "found no wrong-doing on [the host's] part" and wouldn't be removing his listing. It wasn't until the family took their story to social media that the host was removed from the platform and the family offered a refund.
That blundering response wasn't an isolated incident, either.
A recent story by The Atlantic recounts similar experiences by several other guests, four of whom told the publication that Airbnb had "inconsistently applied its own rules when investigating their claims, providing them with incorrect information and making recommendations that they say risked putting them in harm’s way."
Guests are right to be afraid.
According to Airbnb's website, 2.9 million hosts use the platform to supplement — and sometimes altogether replace — their work incomes. It's not hard to imagine that a host concerned they might lose that Airbnb cash due to evidence of a hidden camera might take drastic action to prevent getting caught.
Indeed, when guest Max Vest discovered two undisclosed cameras recording him at a Miami Airbnb, his first thought was to flee, but that was quickly followed by concerns about what the host might do if he knew Vest had found him out.
"I know what [the host] had [at] stake by being caught," the children’s-camp director told The Atlantic.
Vest was able to escape without incident — only to have a member of Airbnb's Trust & Safety team then urge him to return to the home to hand over the host's keys.
"No one really seems to know what they’re doing," Jeff Bigham, another hidden camera victim, told The Atlantic. "And it seems like it’s only going to get worse."
READ MORE: Airbnb Has a Hidden-Camera Problem [The Atlantic]
More on hidden cameras: Cities’ “Smart” Led Streetlights May Be Secretly Watching Over You
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