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Is Your Airbnb Watching You? Hosts, Guests Clash Over Cameras


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This article originally appeared on Business Insider.

Jen Kelman worried about the angle of the security camera on her two-bedroom rental in Pine, Arizona, a small mountain town two hours north of Phoenix.

The Airbnb host installed it as the “eyes and ears” for her rental property since she lives in Phoenix. But Kelman also was anticipating that some guests might get creeped out at the prospect of being captured at any time by the camera’s sweeping view of the front of the home.

“It’s going to make them feel like I’m looking at them,” she said. “And I don’t want them to feel that way.”

So she carefully angled it from the back corner of the porch to avoid capturing a small table where people might enjoy a cup of coffee. The camera is also positioned so that it’s not able to peer into the front door, she said.

Kelman’s meticulous attention to the sensitive matter comes amid growing questions about the boundaries between guest privacy and the security concerns of the hosts. While WiFi cameras are giving hosts peace of mind, they’re also stirring up anger among guests who complain about being watched by the pool, called out for inviting people to visit, or even harassed by hosts using two-way talk features.

Some renters are venting on social media about hosts telling them to get out of the pool at a certain hour or harassing them for accidentally blocking cameras with beach equipment on their family vacation. On Facebook, one user wrote: “I don’t have anything to hide, but feel very uncomfortable knowing that every conversation could be listened to.”

Hosts, for their part, sometimes empathize. Some, in Facebook groups, have complained about over-eager hosts they’ve experienced in their own travels. But many others defend the practice as a necessary precaution to stop their houses from getting trashed by drunken revelers, or simply to help run their rentals from afar.

Airbnb’s official policy allows its hosts to use cameras that are “clearly disclosed” and “don’t infringe on another person’s privacy.” There are bans on “hidden cameras” as well as cameras in any private spaces like bedrooms and bathrooms. All three hosts who spoke to Insider said that — as Airbnb requires — they include the use of cameras in their listing descriptions.

Kelman says she draws the line of privacy between the front and the back yards. She needs the cameras in the front to know when to give entry to contractors who help with general upkeep and make sure guests have left the property. But installing cameras in the backyard — an area with a fire pit and deck chairs — is unnecessary, she said.

For Lisa Lewis, another Airbnb host, having a camera is a must for renting her two-bedroom in Foley, Alabama. Not having one would be a dealbreaker, she said.

Lewis said that her rental primarily attracts youth baseball, softball, and soccer teams traveling to the nearby Foley Sports Complex. She uses the camera to make sure guests aren’t unaccompanied minors and that they aren’t hosting large get-togethers, which she believes leads to more incidents of broken furniture or other damage.

Lewis says she also uses the camera to charge $100 for guests who attempt to check in early or check out late, without first informing her.

Zach Narus, an Airbnb host in Arizona, says cameras provide “peace of mind” to his guests, just as much as they do for him.

Once a guest messaged Narus that there was a loud banging outside the property and asked him to use the security cameras to check for an intruder or wildlife. It ended up being the noise of a fan that accidentally turned on, but the guest was thankful for the attention, Narus said.

At the end of the day, Narus says he thinks cameras simply “keep people honest.” Disclosing the use of cameras, Narus says, discourages bookings from people looking to throw a party.





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