An Airbnb Superhost in China was reportedly caught stealthily filming guests after a woman with security expertise located a hidden camera tucked inside of a router in the home’s bedroom.
The incident occurred last Wednesday at an Airbnb situated in the Chinese province of Qingdao, the South China Morning Post reported Tuesday, citing newspaper Beijing Youth Daily. The woman’s suspicions about the space—which she’d reportedly booked for a three-night stay—apparently began after she discovered a motion sensor device in both the entrance of the space as well as in its two bedrooms, which she said she found “odd since the flat had not been renovated for smart-home automation.”
After sweeping the apartment and the usual hiding places for surveillance devices—including smoke detectors and other electronics where a tiny camera could easily be concealed—she reportedly noticed an odd-looking light in a bed-facing router. After comparing the device with product images, the report said she opened the device and found that it had been wired with a memory card. She reportedly then contacted the police.
According to the South China Morning Post, police found that the Airbnb host had been filming guests in the home since March. Neither the host nor the woman was identified by their legal names in reports. However, the South China Morning Post said the woman, who works in information security, was referred to by her online alias Yunfei.
The man was reportedly given 20 days’ detention. Airbnb did not immediately return a request for comment about the report. However, a spokesperson for the company told Beijing Youth Daily that it “sincerely [apologized] to the client and have taken the flat off the apartment listings.”
Superhosts are recognized by Airbnb for providing “a shining example for other hosts, and extraordinary experiences for their guests.” The company claims that it reviews the activity of these individuals four times each year to ensure that they’re maintaining a high standard of service, for which they’re awarded special badges that are both visible to guests and can be filtered for when guests are booking. Still, Airbnb states on its website that it does not “endorse or sponsor any host, including Superhosts, or their listings.”
The issue of assured security and privacy in Airbnb’s model is certainly not a new one. Just a few months ago in January, a family located multiple cameras in the residence where they were staying. Jeffrey Bigham, who discovered the cameras, told Gizmodo by email at the time that the issue around “wifi cameras, privacy, etc., is deeply affecting Airbnb’s users, no one really seems to know what they’re doing, and it seems like it’s only going to get worse.”
Until Airbnb manages to find a better way of preventing these incidents, the best practice is to do what the woman who discovered the router cam did: sweep the residence. It’s bullshit that the onus falls on individual guests rather than the company to ensure guest safety, sure. But if this latest incident is any indication, taking the measure could help prevent a serious breach of privacy.