After getting comfortable and unpacking, the family discovered a terrible secret about their lodging: Someone else was spying on them.

Behind a normal looking smoke detector, the family found a tiny hidden camera that had been live since the moment they arrived. How did they manage to find the camera? And what can you do to protect yourself from unwarranted surveillance? I’ll show you how.

How to find a spy camera in your vacation rental

When the Barker family first checked into their Airbnb rental, nothing seemed to be wrong. The comfy unit was fully furnished and just as described. While the family was busy unpacking, father Andrew Barker, decided to connect to the Wi-Fi network to get online.

Having a background in IT and security, he felt compelled to run a network scan to see what other devices he would be sharing the network with. He couldn’t believe what he’d found.

Sure enough, Andrew noticed an open device that was sharing the network with him. After accessing the device with his laptop, a video feed popped open on his desktop — a live feed showing him and his family in the living room!

Eventually, they were able to use the video to pinpoint the location of the camera itself: a smoke detector attached to the ceiling. Andrew shoved some tissues into the opening while he and his family planned their next moves.

Calling the event an “immediate violation of our privacy,” the Barkers reached out to both Airbnb and the host, who promptly hung up on them. The host eventually called back, begrudgingly admitting that the ceiling camera was the “only one in the house.” Not too comforting of a statement at this point, all things considered.

On the other hand, Airbnb didn’t respond too keenly either.

They temporarily suspended the listing and promised an investigation.

They later claimed to have “exonerated” the host, completely reinstating the defunct listing 2 weeks later. It was only after the Barkers posted their experience on Facebook that Airbnb took them seriously enough to ban the host and refund them for their troubles. So much for an extensive privacy policy.

How to know if you’re being spied on

If you’re staying at a hotel or rental property, there’s a couple of steps you can take to make sure you’re not being spied on. You don’t have to be an IT expert like Andrew Barker, but some basic tech know-how will let you dive deeper so you can protect yourself.

  1. Use a laser pointer to scan typical hiding places for cameras. Smoke detectors, sprinklers, picture frames and vents are all common locations to hide a spy camera. What you’ll need to look out for is the lens reflection, which will shine when the laser hits the camera. If you see a reflection, that means it’s time to get a closer look.
  2. Connect to your host’s Wi-Fi and check for devices that are connected to the network. This is how Andrew Barker found the hidden camera in his rental. When you’re connected, you should be able to see your computer, phone, family members’ devices, and maybe some media equipment in your lodging. Anything else that you don’t recognize is worth looking into. If you’re not super tech savvy, there’s an app available that will perform the network scan for you and show you what other devices are connected.
  3. Disconnect your devices from the internet when you’re not using them. If your would-be spy of a host is more tech savvy, they might be able to harness their own network against your devices, allowing them to spy on web browsing behavior and more. Prevention is the best form of cure, so avoid this outcome by playing it safe and disconnecting.
  4. Cover your camera and microphone on your personal device with tape or a sticker. This is a basic precaution for anyone concerned with privacy, and if you’re connecting to a host’s network, it’s highly advised that you play it on the safe side. You can also adjust which apps are allowed to use the camera and microphone in the settings of both iOS and Android.

If you do end up finding a hidden camera in your rental, vacate the property and immediately contact the host, the booking service and the police. Getting your story on record is the best defense against “he-said-she-said” accusations.

Don’t be discouraged if the booking service drags its feet, either. Be persistent and honest. Spying is a major violation of consent and privacy and there’s no excuse for it.