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How to increase your chances of finding a hidden camera (sixfortwelve.wordpress.com)
423 points by rurban 16 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 181 comments

I've been helping a friend update their rental listings online this week (airbnb, homeaway, etc), and after seeing this issue come up, I told him I would specify that there were no cameras in the house. His response "that make's it sound like I have camera's in the house", but I convinced him honesty was a better policy in this regard.

But when we weren't updating the listing, we were installing all kinds of smart home crap. There might not be any camera's, but every room has a google hub / speaker, a thermostat sensor (which looks suspiciously like a camera, particularly after reading this article) & wifi switches.

I don't see a need for any of this stuff. The barely find the 'problems' it solves inconvenient. And when balanced against the privacy implications, I have no interest in a smart home.

But I'm realising now that's going to make many Airbnb's unsuitable. Adding the hidden camera element... it just becomes impossible. If you really care about this issue, are you going to book an airbnb, then unplug every smart device, check for camera's, disable them somehow, and then re-connect everything when you leave?

I'm going to second what achenatx said.

- Having smart locks means I don't have to give out keys, and I can change lock codes remotely.

- Having a smart thermostat means not only can I change it remotely (once they've checked or to prepare it before checking in), but I also get notified of when the HVAC isn't working. (For example, the ecobee will email you if it's been heating for a couple of hours and the temperature has dropped). This is absolutely necessary in climates with periods of extreme cold as that can cause burst pipes, which then damage everything.

- Smart smoke detectors, CO2 detectors can notify you of problems that you won't otherwise find out about in a timely manner, given you're not at the location.

- Sensors that detect flooding. We have a condo that has been flooded by upstairs tenants. Putting a moisture detector between the walls means we get notified of a small problem before it becomes a huge problem.

I think having a smart home is even more important for a property that you don't live at then one where you do.

Actively telling guests "We don't have hidden cameras" has got to be extremely off-putting. There is not a huge problem with hidden cameras. Just fine/arrest/ban the hosts who actually do it, given evidence that it is them doing it.

Something I discovered when working in technology is that anyone who said "just do ___" in a planning meeting was either brilliant, or drastically underestimated the scope of a task. Either way, the solution was the same. If you're the only person in the room who thinks a task is easy, you're assigned to that task.

How exactly do you plan to find identify all the hosts who do this?

One of the producers I used to work with would double the price for any one that said ‘just’ when describing the project. To him, anyone using ‘just’ was evidence they really had no understanding of what we had to do thereby grossly undervaluing the amount of work on our end.

Random spot checks using equipment to scope out for bugs. Some of that stuff is easily available to buy.

If it's such a big problem offer a small bounty and watch people do it for you.

Wouldn't that just incentivize tenants to plant cameras on properties and claim that the landlord put it there? I agree with Ken that this isn't a simple problem to solve.

Retrieving the camera by authorities would show any footage.

But what's stopping tenants planting cameras now? No risk to them really. Plant the camera, hook it up to the wifi and power. Now you can see everyone who stays. If the camera gets found, the landlord takes the risk.

Who is to say all these cameras we think from the landlord really are from tenants who know they can get away with.

Yes, I agree, the more you think about it, the more complex it appears and harder to solve.

>> Just fine/arrest/ban the hosts who actually do it, given evidence that it is them doing it.

The Federal voyeurism act of 2004 made it illegal in the US to record video of someone without their consent when that person had a reasonable expectation of privacy [0]. Fines and up to one year in prison.

But I don't know of any actual convictions.

I bet if this happens in some jurisdiction with a politically ambitious prosecutor and the host were recording children then it will blow up.

[0]: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/108/s1301/text

Apologies for my pet peeve, but it's CO, not CO2....

Not necessarily - CO2 detectors are readily available. It's interesting to see how tired you get as CO2 rises.

That's not the sort of thing you care about learning in a "timely manner" if you're "not at the location".

> Actively telling guests "We don't have hidden cameras" has got to be extremely off-putting

It reminds me of, when I've been road-tripping, seeing billboards advertising "clean restrooms." I never know what to do with that info - trust it? Be more cautious of other places that don't advertise the cleanliness of their restrooms?

I guess, but that could make for a long trip through a supermarket cogitating over the ripe fruit, delicious vegetables and tasty snacks.

Do you also introduce yourself like:

Hi! I'm Bob, not a murderer.

Otherwise, how people will know that you haven't killed anyone?

If there was a widespread problem with murderers in your social circle, and people kept finding out people whom they had assumed were not murderers, then I might introduce myself as Bob, not a murderer.

Just wait til they find out I'm not Bob.

> Hi! I'm Bob, not a murderer.

That's just proper craigslist dating etiquette.

No, I don't introduce myself that way - that would be crazy.

There is a popular theory that the handshake originated as a way to show your hand wasn't holding a weapon.

I think the evidence for this history is shaky at best, but it's been repeated because it's somehow a compelling idea -- what were people thinking many hundreds of years ago when crime was so common that you genuinely wondered about whether you could trust a casual acquaintance not to hurt you? What did they do to protect themselves?

It doesn't seem unreasonable to wonder about how to present yourself as "safe" in the deeply untrustworthy home-sharing privacy landscape where casual home surveillance is ultra-common (and where neither landlord nor tenant knows how much they can trust the other). I'm not sure there is a good answer and it's not crazy to try to look for one.

That sounds very unlikely.

If strangers don't trust each other they show their hands to each other. Till today.

When you get close enough for a handshake the hand can allready hold a knive and is close enough to hurt.

Handshake tells you more about a person after you trust them not to kill you (right now)

Announcing you have no cameras answers questions about privacy and about security. Announcing you're not a murderer only says you claim not to kill people unlawfully.

I would if I were trying to sell something in a market where the murder of customers was a common (or even merely widely reported) phenomenon. Because the risk of making someone think about it who hasn't before, is lower, and the benefit of potentially reaching someone with that message who was already wondering about it, is higher.

>My "Not involved in human trafficking" T-shirt has people asking a lot of questions already answered by my shirt.



Are you suspicious of a VPN service that claims that it doesn't collect logs?

Actually, maybe that's a bad question, because a large number of HN commenters _are_ suspicious of commercial VPNs, but would you say that a VPN that doesn't make such a claim is preferable to one that does?

IANAL, but isn't that different? Spying on people at home without their knowledge is illegal. Murder is illegal.

Collecting and saving logs might defeat the purpose of the VPN service but it's not (AFAIK) illegal. By putting this in your contract, you make it binding, so yes, it has real value.

When my now-wife and I first met (via OKC) in 2010, we did actually joke about how neither of us was an axe murderer.

So do you use a sling blade instead? Just because you’re not an axe murderer as you’ve stated doesn’t mean you not just a murderer using a different method.

I slay her with dad jokes on the regular.

Well, on the extremely limited evidence you've given, it sounds like you gave fair warning, after all.

That also makes it sound like your name's not really Bob.

Hi prison mates, I'm Bob and I am in prison for stealing a loaf of bread. Do you want to rent out my copy of the Twilight series?

Maybe that's slightly more accurate?

as the owner of a vacation rental

1) being able to change door codes remotely and unlock the door remotely can save a lot of trips to the rental

2) being able to control the thermostat after people leave and have set the temp to 65 degrees is also really useful.

3) The only cameras I would use are outside the home so I can monitor it when it is vacant. I have the same policy in my own home

Explicitly mentioning “no cameras” is currently very off-putting because the expectation is that there are no cameras in private accommodations. It comes off as well as saying “We won’t file a frivolous damage claim against you.” That wasn’t something I was really worrying about, but, well, now I am.

There is one exception, and that is to clarify both where the cameras are and aren’t. Saying “We have a security camera over the garage door, but no cameras in the house” comes off much more sincerely.

Agreed. This leads me to believe airbnb should add a question about this and force homeowners to answer it one way or another.

That's a really neat solution to this issue! Added benefit is that if a camera is found, Airbnb has a simple criteria to weed out the bad eggs.

An indirect approach could be better to communicate the lack of cameras without making people too suspicious. Something like: "We highly value our guests' privacy".

That phrase has such a strong connection to data leaks and privacy invasion that I instinctively stay away from anyone who uses it.

“We highly value our guests' privacy” is exactly what every data collecting actor on every website writes. It’s effectively meaningless.

It means precisely what it says ... that your privacy is worth good money to them.

Maybe... or maybe it's saying "Your privacy is so valuable, imagine what we could get for that on the open market."

Most "smart" home automation utilities are pretty useless anyway. Their end goal can usually be achieved with "dumb" electromechanical devices. Anything "smarter" than a motion sensor and a relay is probably too smart.

Part of the problem is that "smart" crap becomes hard to avoid if you want non-shitty devices.

We've run into this with refrigerator shopping—we want a counter-depth fridge with what amounts to maybe $50-100 worth of "luxury" improvements in terms of cost to the manufacturer (a little more metal where some have plastic, castors for the drawers so they move a little better, "soft close" would be nice but its absence isn't a deal-breaker, some slightly more thoughtful than usual layout & organization) but all the ones with that kind of thing also bundle auto-opening doors and fancy smart junk and cost double what a mid-range fridge does. We just want to pay slightly (say $200-400) more for a fridge that doesn't feel like a (cheap!) kid's toy, but without a bunch of fancy junk. Such a product does not exist.

Then there's smoke detectors. Do some reading and it seems like they all suck, badly, except Nest Protect, which achieves best-of-a-bad-lot status. I just want smoke detectors that, you know, work, and don't annoy me so much in the kitchen that I end up unplugging that one permanently. Ideally they'd wirelessly trigger one another so I don't have to worry about wires for that. I don't really want or need them to connect to the Internet or to spy on me. Unfortunately sucks-the-least comes bundled with spies-on-you.

See also: the entire TV market.

I like that I can find out that I left my garage door open even when I'm not home -- and even shut it remotely, if necessary. It's a very practical use case for a 'smart' device.

Not nearly as practical as taking a look at your garage door while leaving though. If you're paranoid you can install a timer with an override switch. Surely telemetry and high-level automation has advantages, but is it worth the hassle, the abandonware light switch which is useless now, the privacy and security concerns that come with network-connected equipment? That is a personal choice and I have to say I'm not a supporter.

Right, but to be human is to be fallible. For example, I left my garage door open all night last night (I was preoccupied when I went in, and just forgot to push the button). I've had a smart garage door for a while, but I just now added a schedule to automatically close the door at 1am, if it's not closed. That has value.

Likewise, my smart sprinkler system monitors the weather and waters the lawn based on the amount of rain we've had. Over the rainy season here, it automatically disabled sprinkling for over 3 months. Sure, I could setup something with a water sensor, or push the rain-skip button each week, but it was nice to not have to think about it.

Yes, but are you sure you're the only person who is able to control the door remotely? That's a big issue with a fair number of "smart" devices: their security is not up to par.

The guest expectation is that hotels and rentals don't have any hidden cameras. Stating that there are no cameras, while it is truthful, it has the opposite effect of what you are trying to achieve. This is why you don't see low-fat/low-sugar ice cream proclaiming that it won't make you fat on the box.

Why is everything in the cloud?

Why don’t we have some good software that will runt his stuff on our own servers locally?

I’m talking even mesh networking for the neighborhood, no Internet.

Is there any good software like that? For social networking, or parsing commands etc.

Agree completely that having to scan for hidden bugs and cameras is a massive inconvenience. A relative just cancelled a month-long stay in an AirB&B after finding unnoticed cameras (and the rapidly increasing number of stories about this is pretty much putting me off the concept).

>>"...and then re-connect everything when you leave" It seems to me that if I did use one, and found & disconnected some bugs, the last thing I'd do is reconnect them. I'd have no way to ensure that I reconnected everything properly, and they can fix their own damn setup. (TBH, I'd be more likely to take them and toss in the nearest trash bin -- what are they going to do, try and charge me for stealing their illegal bugging devices? I'm just taking out the trash.)

Just turn off the router and use your own. That's crude but should deal with 98% of problems.

That's the decoy router, not the hidden one with the hidden SSID.

Yes. But, the 2% remaining are hidden cameras saving everything to SD card.

Or a router with an SD card when the network drops.

Or maybe there is an x-ray source in the cellar and a detector in the roof

Or further, disconnect the internet from the Demarcation point outside.

Although I have personally found a cheap android phone located in an outside, locked, electrical receptacle box with a charger plugged in. It all fit nicely. This was running a hotspot with hidden SSID.

Agreed on IoT stuff. If you're just staying in a place a few days the last thing you want to do is figure out how to get all the smart home crap to work. Stick with regular light switches please!

Outright specifying there are no cameras in the house may make you a target for bad actors looking for vulnerable properties.

This is something I would mention to people after they accept the rental agreement, preferably face to face.

If asked, I would say no cameras currently but planning to install by rent date, even if you end up not really doing it.

> are you going to...

Everything but the re-connect bit. If you re-connect everything, the owner won't get the message.

The message that you're kind of a jerk, and you think your opinion about their property is more valid than theirs even after you leave?

The irony of you calling me a jerk is delightful. As they say, when debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the loser. Since the debate is over, so is this conversation, as it certainly cannot be productive (but then again, you never did intend for it to be).

> There might not be any camera's, but every room has a google hub

that is a bigger privacy invasion if you ask me... and it is probably even illegal in some states (https://www.mwl-law.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/03/LAWS-ON-R...) ...

A clearly visible device that doesn't record unless you tell it to is a bigger violation than a hidden device that records all the time? Come on.

Edit: the Google device also has a visible physical mute button.

It listens at all times and can decide to send your data to Google at any time without a warning... doesn't it do voice recognition in the cloud anyways?

edit: do you really trust that button? they have hidden microphones before: https://www.cnet.com/news/google-calls-nests-hidden-micropho...

A couple weeks back we were on vacation in Hawaii, and one night at dinner the table of San Diegans next to us was having a rather loud and animated conversation. It seems they had rented out their property back home on Airbnb and they very clearly talked about not disclosing the cameras they had onsite to the tenants.

The tenants had discovered at least the doorbell camera and covered it up, to which the owners were not pleased and were debating calling the police on the tenant.

We were aghast at their complete lack of knowledge regarding undisclosed video surveillance of tenants and the violation of airbnb policy. My wife badly wanted to interject but we let it go. We did talk about how to mitigate these threats, made for some interesting vacation dinner conversation though.

If the doorbell camera was facing into the outside, then I am not sure what grounds the tenants have to complain. Hotels and apartments can and do monitor public areas.

I'm not sure what grounds the renters have to complain about this either.

Is there some sort of law or rule obligating tenants to keeping the view of cameras unobstructed?

Well the camera aren't the tenants property so putting something on top of them like tape would be simple vandalism. They can always obstruct it without touching it.

I can't imagine that a tenant temporarily obstructing the view of a security camera qualifies as simple vandalism in my country but maybe you live in a different place.

If that's the case then merely standing in view of the camera would qualify as vandalism as well because you'd be obstructing the view of what is behind you.

The Airbnb rules for hosts: If you’re a host and you have any type of surveillance device in or around a listing, even if it’s not turned on or hooked up, we require that you indicate its presence in your House Rules. We also require you to disclose if an active recording is taking place.


Relevant article: How to Find Hidden Cameras and Spy Gear [1] and HN discussion [2].

[1] https://www.senteltechsecurity.com/blog/post/how-to-find-hid... [2] https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=18926264

I always run the fing app to scan the WiFi at any rental I stay at. It's neat to see what all is connected. I assume if someone is smart enough to properly segment the network or enable AP isolation to hide devices, they've put in the time to do it right.

I also run a rental, and that's has lead to a creep in new smart home devices. It came with a smart Lock and thermostat. I added a zwave card to control the lock remotely. Added motion sensors, doors sensors, leak detectors. It is nice to have such things when random people are staying in a place you own. I use a wyze cam in the basement (locked to renters) to monitor for fire alarms and keep and eye on cleaning folks. But would never install a camera while the unit is rented. I do have one in the off season...as the home sits mostly vacant for 6 months.

Besides owners, what about creeps that rent a place then leave devices behind? This affects hotels as well. That's my big fear.

Another option is to choose not to be afraid. If one really care, get good at sweeping a place for cameras & remove the fear. If one is too lazy to sweep for cameras (like me!), decide to accept there's a low, non-zero chance that I'll get taped and move on.

"You've got a tape of me? Congratulations! Send me a copy. It's a good thing there wasn't a camera covering all of the apartment. I had a little digestion shenanigans going on, I'm glad there's no evidence I am the one who left that floor. I tried to clean it up, but I didn't have any industrial chemicals."

Being secretly taped, esp in intimate moments, is a valid fear that many women have. It has long term repercussions on their life esp when the videos get shared.

I don't actively sweep rooms but I'd be lying if I didn't say I inspected something that looked out of place when staying with the family at hotels and rentals. When I am by myself, I am less paranoid about these issues.

This is absolutely a real issue, it's a problem with society and I'd love to see it change as it'd also help de-claw the terrible action that is revenge porn but until that happens... Yea, this.

a fear isn't made more urgent because a woman has it.

Let me rephrase it then, just because men _don't_ have a fear doesn't make it an invalid fear.

(and plenty of men do have that fear, but a lot that I know do not)

A picture of a male coworker naked doesn't elicit the same workplace issues that a picture of a female one does. That's unfortunate and I wish it weren't the case, but it is the case.

And, likewise, made no less urgent because a man doesn't have it.

No one said it was. It's a fear that men don't as often have (to the same degree) - that doesn't make it any more, _or any less_, urgent.

The implication was there though. I suspect that most men simply aren't vigilant about these issues, and so they don't fear it. I'm sure it would bother them too.

You also have it backwards.

Men don't fear it as much as women, so they aren't as vigilant.

No. The implication was not there.

No one said it does.

It wasn't even a point that was made. They simply mentioned women in their description.

It doesn't matter who fears it. It is a valid fear.

This perspective is fine if you're by yourself, but what if you've got kids with you?

Not the parent commenter, but if I had kids with me I’d stay in a hotel.

It can be stressful enough traveling with children without having to worry about all the variables of an Airbnb stay.

Cameras have been found in hotels too.

Definitely a valid fear. If I was airBnB-ing a place I'd def have to do a quick sweep for devices between tenants. With regard to hotels, I'm reminded of what happened to Erin Andrews[0], though that was targeted.


It just occurred to me that there is a risk here for owners as well. A guest could install hidden cameras in a rental, then months later another guest might find them and would likely assume that the owner had installed them.

Agreed. A "guest" could target popular listings and hide a camera without the host knowing.

Don't worry, I'm sure the owners will catch them doing that via their own cameras.

Why do I get the feeling there is an underground market of sorts where people are paying to watch streams of hidden cameras in hotel rooms?

Whoops, don’t get any ideas now!

"In all, cameras are thought to have been installed in 42 rooms, across 30 hotels in 10 cities between November last year and this month. The suspects streamed 803 videos of people without their consent to a website with 4,000 members. "


I'm pretty sure there's a reddit dedicated to logging into people's purely secured home webcams.

The easiest way to find a hidden camera is with a thermal sensor. You can get a used FLIR for around $100. Everything electronic gives off heat...

I saw a random video clip yesterday where they clipped a red transparent card over the phone camera; turning on the camera flash, and scanning the room using the camera's video camera mode. The light from the phone reflected in small spy cam lenses, showing up as tiny red dots on the screen.

Can you link a source to this? It sounds incredibly cool.

Or just turn off all the lights in the room and use your iPhone camera in live mode - hidden cameras (and their IR emitters) will light up like a Christmas light.

That's only if the hidden camera is actually using an infrared led / led array. Also you might have better luck using the front camera because it is more sensitive to IR.

If it isn't using infrared leds, you can at least get undressed in the dark with little worry.

This may vary based on the wavelength emissions from the IR LED's:


Is this an iphone specific thing ? Have you tested it.

It's not actually. Most digital cameras pick up infrared light, especially cheaper ones. Maybe not professional cameras, which might have an IR filter for better color accuracy. The filters are not cheap and IR doesn't affect the image quality all that much.

Try it out; point your TV remote at your smartphone camera and push the buttons. You might be able to barely see the light with your eye in dark conditions, but the blinking pattern should be bright and easy to see through your phone.

I've tried this; you can definitely pick up the IR light with the front camera of your phone. Rear camera has an IR filter in modern cameras or something.

Can confirm. Just saw red light on my TV remote w/ my LG G5. Pretty interesting!

Every camera I've tried this with displays the IR as a pinkish purple color. You can sometimes see that same color in photos of things like sunlight reflecting off of chrome, or refracting through windows.

Depends on whether your camera is equipped with an infrared filter. Some older camcorders actually have low-light modes based on infrared or near infrared light. You should be able to use those as well.

No, it's not iPhone specific.

You can always test yours with any IR remote control - just point it at the camera, press any button and you should see the LED blinking.

You can test it with a classic remote control where you can see the beam when you press a button if you point it directly at the camera lens.

I only have an iPhone 5, it works with the front camera. The back camera has an IR Filter.

> You can get a used FLIR for around $100.

The cheapest ones I have found are around $500. What FLIR device are you talking about?

You can get the one for smartphones for $200 brand new. https://www.flir.com/products/flir-one-gen-3/

You can also use a non linear junction detector


They are electronically very simple (they are the boxes with wands and earphones you always see in espionage movies)

Quoting from the wiki article:

> As a countermeasure against an NLJD, professional covert listening devices (bugs) of the Central Intelligence Agency were equipped from 1968 onwards with a so-called isolator. An isolator is a 3-port circulator of which the return ports is terminated with a resistor. Any energy injected into the bug by an NLJD, will be absorbed by the resistor, resulting in no (or very little) reflected energy. An example of such a bug is the CIA's SRT-107.

Do modern concealed spy cameras have this kind of tech? Is there anyway to counter such a counter-measure?

It would require it being built into the IC itself, and no ICs except ones intelligence agencies have access to are going to offer this feature, because it has no other real purpose than evading NLJDs

But they are about $10k, and sadly one of the few things where I don't think there are any working DIY ones.


Why did "forward looking" get glued onto that acronym? Why not just IR camera or detector? Did the military have less popular rear or side looking infrared devices? maybe "FLIR" was just fun to say? On a rocket powered missile rear-looking infrared seems pretty useless.

Yes, early infrared imaging systems were "push broom"[1] scanners facing perpendicular to the direction of travel. Forward-looking sensors required some additional tech to be developed: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forward-looking_infrared#Origi...

FLIR is arguably a misnomer when applied to handheld devices, though.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Push_broom_scanner

this doesn't help when it's hidden in the workings of another electronic device which creates heat.

I think the general assumption here is that a hidden camera would be likely to use active IR illumination.

ah; I misunderstood. thanks.

Also remember, thermal heat would be present and difficult to isolate from hidden cameras located in seemingly harmless electronics.

Another option is to get a camera lens detector device. It works by detecting the curvature of camera lens.

How does it detect the curvature?

I think it probably measures the curvature and if the curvature exceeds the normal parameters of non-lens objects then the device has curvature and can be detected.

>> How does it measure the curvature

> ... it probalby measure the curvature

So how does it measure the curvature?

You just pop it on your wrist.

Edit: I wonder if anyone will get the reference

There is no way I am staying at another Airbnb if there is a hotel.

I don’t really see the value of AirBNB anyway. At least in Europe it takes hours to find a nice one, then you rate them and they rate you so hardly any rating is very accurate, the places never match exactly the description, and you need to book well in advance to not need a credit card.

My hotel experiences, on the other hand, are usually much nicer. On arrival I look at the maps app on my phone to find hotels near where I want to be at, I see ratings and price ranges, I walk in and can ask to see the room, talk to someone who’s always polite and often speaks good English, and pay with debit card and have 0 emails or texts or accounts from anyone about my stay.

AirBNB might be nice if you want a ton of space or for long durations. This is purely as a comparison to hotels. Does anyone have different experiences?

AirBNB needs to show rating percentages, i.e. the % of people who _do_not_ leave a rating. Most people do not like to leave negative ratings.

AirBNB (Amazon too) also need to enforce normalized ratings. Another five star review? Either adjust all ratings to an agreed average (e.g. 3 stars) or let users "use up" their 5-star ratings allowance.

Or ditch the stars all together and grade them based on their position in the bell curve of all ratings (and maybe local ratings). So, "this place is rated higher than 83% of AirBnBs in Des Moines (and better than 65% nationally)."

Absent that, my MO is use this formula f(rating) -> (rating - 4) * 10. Basically, focus on what's after the decimal; so a 4.3 translates to a 3/10. The fact that it allows for negative values is a feature.

> Either adjust all ratings to an agreed average (e.g. 3 stars) or let users "use up" their 5-star ratings allowance.

This doesn't take into account people who are really picky about choosing accommodations and so only stay in listings that are worth of five stars, vs people who are very budget conscious and only stay in listings that are worth 3 stars.

If you normalize these two people's ratings that will give the same 3-star average rating to both marginal and great listings.

Depends how you normalize doesn't it?

I love AirBnBs for personal travel and sometimes for business travel. Renting a house for a week with colleagues all working on a project gives a very different vibe (and is much more productive) than a series of hotel rooms where the only option to hang out (whether to work or to BS) is at a bar, the lobby, or in someone's room.

I'll take a living room, kitchen, and then a series of private bedrooms down the hall over that any day.

For personal travel, we've stayed in awesome city loft apartments, little cottage houses, and even a (no-kidding) tree house in Costa Rica. I like living a little closer to "local normal" rather than having a sterilized, sanitized, pre-packaged hotel room experience.

My good experiences outweigh bad at least 9:1 on AirBnB.

> (no-kidding) tree house in Costa Rica.

Assuming there is only 1 tree house AirBnB listed in Costa Rica, we've stayed in the same place. Super cool design!

Once you get past one kid, having a whole house when traveling is... the only thing that makes traveling seem tolerable, really. Some more touristy places have cabins and such, but in others it's AirBnB or nothing, except maybe some expensive townhouse-like hotels out near airports.

We've also used them for away-from-kids weekend retreats with other couples. Hotels wouldn't work at all, the whole point is to find some place pleasant to hang out in for a couple days, that's not your own house, and that can handle 4-6 people without feeling crowded. Hanging out in a hotel's just sad, not pleasant and relaxing, at least at prices we can afford.

I've stayed at VRBOs all over Europe, and they have mostly been good experiences. The main problem I run into is that checkin often takes longer than a hotel, but other than that they are mostly superior. As others have mentioned, they have kitchens, are in good locations, and are typically cheaper. They become much cheaper if traveling with friends where you may have needed multiple hotel rooms. So my current thinking is 1-2 night stay means hotel, but any longer and I start looking for AirBnbs.

I've also noticed that a lot of boutique hotels (5-10 rooms) often list on the VRBO sites now. The last time I was in Greece, all of my island accommodations were booked on VRBO type sites but were really just small hotels.

> "Does anyone have different experiences?"

Having used AirBnb for 6+ years, yes. Without AirBnB, we probably would not be able to live the lifestyle we live (nomadic in SEA with 3 people, usually 2-6 months in a place)

The long durations and space are definitely something we need. Some other benefits I have found:

1. Kitchens. We can't live without a kitchen of decent size. Sink, full-ish fridge, counter space.

2. Lots of choice in terms of location/look/layout/price/etc. Hotels are mainly in tourist hubs, and in SEA, usually are either decently priced and of questionable quality or much more than we want to spend (especially once you factor in AirBnB monthly discounts).

3. I trust AirBnb customer service more than hotels. Most hotels in SEA aren't chains so you are at the whim of the owners. I have had nothing but good experiences with AirBnB customer service. They can be helpful when things are getting lost in translation as well.

4. Depending on the Host, Airbnb cancellation policies tend to be more flexible, and because it's not a chain, hosts are usually more accommodating. Less "I'm sorry sir, it's company policy".

5. Airbnb's interface tends to be much easier/nicer to use. Everything is in one place, you don't have various hotel booking sites to deal with, the map works really well and you can filter by many different criteria.

6. My wife loves searching through Airbnbs for treasure :)

Kitchen makes an enormous difference, as mentioned in the sibling comment, and also they are often the only option in small towns. Even in medium-sized towns there might be only one hotel, next to the station, whereas you might want to be elsewhere. Sometimes you get lucky with an airbnb or similar in those cases.

Yes very different experience. Hotels are usually overpriced, especially if you travel in > 2. Hotels are much more 'soulless' copy paste, apartments usually have some hint of a 'soul' and better vibe. Kitchen is a massive plus. If you do leisure travel, hotels are 'bubbles' distant from locality, something I always enjoy experiencing. List is long, and always depends on specific place.

There are drawbacks to airbnb style, but positives more than counter-balance them.

At the same price point, AirBnB's have kitchens where hotels do not. If you cook it makes a big difference.

Exactly, eating in saves me a lot of money.

Also you usually have more square meter at the same price point.

Hotels feel bereft of charm and comfort, I prefer the home-y, personalized vibe of the 5 or so AirBNB's I've booked over the years. It's possible there were hidden cameras, yes, but is that not also possible in hotels? Either way, I don't get excited to potentially be snooped on, but I can't throw up a tent and camp any time and any place, so it's a trade-off.

Renting an apartment is the city equivalent of booking a chalet or villa at a different holiday location: You get multiple rooms, a kitchen and a fridge.

Obviously if you're travelling alone or with someone you're happy to share a bed with, that's irrelevant. But if your group has 3 people who would prefer not to share a room, a rented apartment works out cheaper than three hotel rooms.

Because there's never been cameras hidden in hotel rooms...

There might be, but personally, I feel better knowing that the hotel records 200 rooms any somebody might watch it if something is broken than thinking that some person sits in his car with his cellphone and is watching me.

And I'm pretty sure that it's less often in hotels as well - they are generally more professional. Well worth the extra bucks for me.

The larger operators can also be sued. How does it work with AirBnB hosts? How do you even know if they have the assets to be worth suing?

>How do you even know if they have the assets to be worth suing? //

They probably have a property?

That doesn't make them a target worthy of a lawsuit. You have to peel back the finances. Many times the cash flow from a rental is just there to minimize the monthly damage of having an asset do nothing useful for its owner at all.

You could argue this is true for hotels as well, but the larger operators are likely to be more diversified and in better shape.

With a docketed judgment, if the defendant didn't pay up, you and the sheriff can go in to the rental (possibly even while other tenants are in it) and seize the defendant's property until you have seized items that sum to the value of the judgment.

Which is to say, you can probably at least seize the camera that was used to record you, if it's still in there. And you could also take other consumer electronics gear that's in there, that you could use yourself, like routers and televisions.

And if you're getting jerked around and feeling vindictive, you'll go to a hardware store website and check the prices on cat5e cables, coax cables, doorknobs, hinge pins, interior doors, shower heads, toilet hardware, mattresses, mini-fridges, microwave ovens, toasters, coffee-makers, etc. Just bring some tools when you go to collect. Even a small unpaid judgement can render a short-term rental unusable. The replacement cost of all those little things is as nothing compared to the labor cost of delivering and reinstalling all of it.

AirBnB hosts can go to prison.

Hotels are overall probably more bugged than Airbnb's. The more expensive your room, the more likely it's going to be bugged. Especially in the capitals.

Source? Bugged by ownership or rogue actors who book the room?

Here's a declassified guide from 2001 for US government employees of an US agency:


> It is sometimes said that "All hotel rooms abroad are bugged for audio and visual surveillance." Of course it is not true that all of them are bugged, but a great many are -- especially in major hotels frequented by foreign business and government travelers.

> Most foreign security and intelligence services have various means of screening incoming visitors to identify persons of potential intelligence interest. They also have well-established contacts with the hotels that commonly host conferences and meetings with international participation. For convenience, some even maintain permanent offices within the largest hotels. If the local intelligence service considers you a significant intelligence target, it may arranged for you to be assigned a room that is already prepared for the desired monitoring.

Another declassified guide:


> In your hotel, assume that the room and telephone are being monitored. DO NOT try to play investigator and start looking for electronic listening devices. This again could send the wrong signals to a surveillant. Just make sure that you do not say or do anything in your hotel room that you would not want to see posted on the Internet.

This guide's from the NASA:


> The bottom line is this: When traveling over-seas, in particular for official business and where accommodations are provided by the host, assume that your hotel room and work spaces contain clandestine audio and video surveillance devices.

These are all US government sources meant for their own employees. The US government is good at this intelligence stuff so I presume they know what they are talking about. And you can expect that they are doing the same to foreign guests staying in the USA.

You'll will find similar sources from the UK govt as well (search for "site:*.gov.uk hotel room surveillance").

That sounds more like targeted surveillance, though. "Hey, important government employee, you need to expect that your hotel room is bugged".

Most people aren't important government employees that everybody in the world is trying to spy on, and no intelligence service will install bugs in their rooms.

Important government employees are also more careful. Before they became important government employees, they might not have been careful and have done things that they still wouldn't want to see on the internet. So there is value in collecting compromising footage of a large number of people, storing them, and waiting until some of them become important. In general the same idea that the FVEY are doing with their long term low-suspicion data storage projects, just applied to hotel rooms. Investing into collection now, never knowing whether it's going to become valuable in the future. Young people are more likely to experiment and people do have careers.

Do you work for a company that has user data or IP that a foreign government might want access to? Then you might be a person of interest for that government's intelligence agencies. They aren't just interested in government employees and defense contractors.

Sure, if your company is important enough and you're important enough in that company. Again, doesn't apply to most people.

Same here. Airbnb’s response to this problem is still completely insufficient. They have lost my trust. And I used to prefer Airbnb over hotels.

AirBnB should require hosts explicitly list the locations of all cameras in plain text in the description and renters should have to explicitly accept that they consent to the surveillance

I disagree, they should have a dedicated section for hosts to list out all their cameras and classify them by location. Add some legal nonsense and AirBnB could, at the very least, get all bad acting hosts via a breach of contract if they're caught and local laws don't allow any better prosecution.

And it's absolutely to their benefit, AirBnB has enough publicity problems without being known as a source of scummy videos.

The article is nice, but some comments look strange:

Your experience, and informative blog post is a strong reminder to remain vigilant and aware.

That's... just weird?

Or it's just me being a paranoic with low empathy score?

Notice the name of a commenter links back to their blog. It's just not-so-subtle advertising. Post comments on popular blog posts, and maybe someone will click through to look at your stuff. Also often automated.

What then is the proper response upon finding a hidden camera in an airbnb?

There was a thread exactly like this on r/legaladvice from someone in WA. General consensus was to call police for record/case evidence, DO NOT TAMPER WITH DEVICE, call lawyer, proceed under lawyer's advice. https://www.reddit.com/r/legaladvice/comments/8f33z1/found_h...

Depends on state laws on video voyerism. Some states (all states?) it is illegal to put them in voyeuristic places (bathrooms, bedrooms). If that's where you find them, you could just call the authorities at that point.

Illegal everywhere in the US since 2004: https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/108/s1301/text

Something like this: https://youtu.be/wyx6JDQCslE?t=133

Just gonna add the "kinda NSFW" tag here. Hilarious nevertheless.

Turn out the lights and rub super glue over the lens?

Put tape over it.

Did any HN reader ever find a camera. I typically do a half-hearted scan but never found anything suspicious.

Same. Much like card skimmers at ATMs and gas stations. I know they are out there, but I've never found one.

Here's a hacker who found a skimmer and reverse engineered it. [0]

[0] https://trustfoundry.net/reverse-engineering-a-discovered-at...

>...or a clear substrate to see through.

Not always. An infrared filter could be used. Silicon sensors are quite sensitive to such wavelengths. So any shiny black surface could be a camera. Sometimes in the right light the filter might look sort of reddish.

If this is the infrared sensor I think you mean, you can see these if you point a camera lens (like on your phone) at the surface; it will show up in red. You can try this with TV remotes that use infrared.

If the camera is streaming or recording video, then it is likely to be significantly warmer than ambient; a thermal camera (they’re not super-expensive these days) should easily reveal hotspots.

You could also buy a FLIR device on Amazon (about $200). These devices give off heat. For instance, a smoke detector with a camera would give off a lot more heat than a normal smoke detector.

Amazing how seriously people take their privacy when it's AirBnB violating it, but simply accept the systematic privacy violations done by their government.


Scanning isn't going to work if its an IPv6 network. I would just use wireshark and the busy device would probably be your camera it it's on the network.

And probably don't use an IPv6 network if you're the host unless you want to hide a device on the network.

Perhaps we should just learn to live with being watched. The corollary is we have to learn to accept others normal human behaviours, so that images of us scratching our arse and then sniffing our fingernails don't really seem remarkable and aren't limiting in job prospects and such ...

Only half joking.

There's a aphorism "if life gives you storms, learn to dance in the rain". If life gives you voyeurs learn to dance naked and not care???

That's all well and good until they decide to blackmail you, or post the video on the internet.

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