Airbnb have apologised to a New Zealand family travelling in Europe after a hidden camera was found in their accommodation.
Nealie Barker said she and her husband Andrew are both easygoing Kiwis travelling the world with five kids in tow.
But their trip took an unexpected turn after they found a concealed camera in the living room of their Airbnb accommodation in Ireland.
Nealie Barker told Stuff the family arrived at the accommodation on the evening of March 3, slightly later than expected.R
They had paid in full and were due to stay three days. When her husband, who is an IT consultant, went to connect his phone to the wifi network, he noticed a device called “IP camera”.
“He scanned that device’s ports and found the live video feed. We were all watching ourselves on his mobile phone,” Nealie Barker said.
The camera was found in the lounge, which Barker said had a view of the lounge, dining and kitchen area.
“We have encountered lots of weird and wonderful things and like to think we take most things in our stride. However this was shocking.”
After discovering the camera, Barker said she felt “that horrible adrenaline rush you get when you sense danger”.
As a mum, she also felt “immediately protective” about her children being on camera.
“It was late at night, but we decided fairly quickly we didn’t feel comfortable about staying at the house.”
The family left the bed and breakfast that night, and stayed at a nearby hotel instead.
The Barkers have since confronted both the accommodation owner and the Airbnb organisation.
Nealie Barker said the host initially refused to answer their questions and denied having a hidden camera.
“There is no way to know whether the camera was recording. We asked the host but he refused to answer. We also asked if it was recording audio, again he refused to answer.”
It wasn’t until her husband said they could see themselves on the camera, that the host “became flustered and hung up”, Barker said.
“He later called back and admitted there was only one hidden camera and that he had installed it to ‘protect his asset’.”
Barker said there was also no mention of the camera in the accommodation listing on the Airbnb app.
She also said the initial response from Airbnb was “hopeless”. She said it took several weeks to hear about the outcome of the host, and said there “a total lack of transparency around their investigation process”.
Airbnb have since apologised to the family and given the family a full refund.
A spokesperson for the company confirmed to Stuff they had “permanently removed this bad actor from our platform”.
Airbnb’s policy strictly prohibits hidden cameras in listings and it takes reports of any violations extremely seriously, the spokesperson said.
“Our original handling of this incident did not meet the high standards we set for ourselves, and we have apologised to the family and fully refunded their stay.”
Airbnb’s policy around cameras states that they are never allowed in bathrooms or bedrooms, or to be hidden.
It states that hosts must also fully disclose any cameras not in private or sensitive areas, for example security cameras, before a reservation.
“We have a zero tolerance stance when it comes to violations and we immediately remove anyone who has violated the policy.”
Barker said accommodation platforms such as Airbnb were doing a great job at offering affordable prices and interesting travel locations.
However she felt this was privacy issue she needed to stand up about.
Barker said lounge rooms, such as where the camera was found, could be used for all sorts of things, including children running around naked, or adults having an intimate moment together.
In her opinion, she felt that Airbnb should be legally obligated to inform all previous guests of the chance that they have been captured on a hidden camera during their stay.
“This protects guests and also gives reassurance to the many great hosts that their livelihood is being protected by weeding out the bad hosts.”
She also encouraged all app users to be vigilant at properties and push for an investigation if they felt one was needed.