How to Find Hidden Cameras in Your Airbnb (Different Types of Spy Cams)
Is someone watching you in your vacation rental? It’s a scary thought, but the ready availability of cheap and inconspicuous surveillance equipment means you’re probably not being paranoid if you think someone is spying on you.
Airbnb and other property platforms state that owners must inform their guests of any surveillance systems in their rentals. Even so, owners may use cameras for security purposes. So when does a camera become an intrusion on your privacy?
Read on to find out when and where it’s legal to have cameras in an Airbnb property and how to spot them.
Are Hidden Cameras in Airbnb Rentals Legal?
No, hidden cameras are never allowed in an Airbnb rental. The platform’s policies expressly forbid it. Property owners do have the right to use security cameras in common areas like hallways, entryways, kitchens, and living rooms, because CCTV systems help owners prevent theft and have proof of property damage, if any occurs.
That doesn’t mean property owners can install cameras everywhere, or hide them. Airbnb and several other property rental companies’ policies require owners to disclose the use of security cameras in their listings. They must also let customers know if the cameras are operational or dummies.
Most countries also have legislation in place to prevent property owners from installing cameras in any area a guest has a reasonable right to expect privacy.
- Saunas/spa areas
Guests can bring civil cases against Airbnb and Vrbo hosts if security cameras are hidden in these areas.
Common Types of Hidden Cameras & How to Find Them
Hidden cameras come in all shapes and sizes. From clock radios to shower gel bottles, let’s take a look at some of the common types of hidden cameras and how to find them.
Hardwired cameras connect to a power outlet and are often high-definition and adjustable. They’re reliable as they never need to be charged. They’re also easy to hide anywhere you already expect to see cables (e.g. next to TVs, radios, charging stations, etc.) and even places you wouldn’t (like near plants, bookshelves, or under cupboards).
🔍 How To Find One: Be on the lookout for cords leading out of an unusual place, like a plant or tissue box. Follow the cord until you reach its end. If you locate a camera, make note of which direction it’s pointing so you know that area isn’t private.
Hiding wireless cameras is much easier as there are no obvious cables to worry about, but they come with other drawbacks. A wireless camera needs to be recharged, so you can’t just plug it in and forget about it. It also needs to be within signal range of the central hub where the video data is sent and stored.
- 🔍 How To Find One: Be on the lookout for cords leading out of an unusual place, like a plant or tissue box. Follow the cord until you reach its end. If you locate a camera, make note of which direction it’s pointing so you know that area isn’t private.
Smoke Detector Camera
Yes, someone created a camera designed to look like a smoke detector. While the camera does a decent job of recording, it won’t help in the event of fire! These cameras can be hardwired or wireless, provide HD-quality video, and use motion detection.
Most smoke detectors have a blue or red light which may flash if it detects smoke or the battery is low. This makes these cameras harder to detect, as you aren’t likely to find a flashing light on a smoke detector strange.
- 🔍 How To Find One: Turn on your mobile phone’s flashlight and run the light over the entire surface of the smoke detector. A camera lens will give off a purplish glare, while regular smoke detector lights won’t.
AC Adapter Camera
Any device that uses an AC adapter could be a camera in disguise. AC adapter cameras are hardwired but have wireless capability. They offer remote viewing and provide optional push notifications when motion is detected. They look like regular AC adapters, but on closer inspection you will find an off-colored area or even a pinhole in the adapter.
- 🔍 How To Find One: Look for unusual holes or off-color spots on AC adapters – these areas usually house the camera lens. The spots can be as small as a pinhole, so using your flashlight can help you detect them easier.
Clock Radio Camera
A clock radio camera has several functions. It’s a real clock radio, but it also has a hidden camera and an internal memory bank that serves as the central storage hub for video. A clock radio camera can be wireless or hard-wired.
- 🔍 How To Find One: Listen out for a ticking sound. Clock radio cameras make a ticking noise when they record video, which is unusual for a digital clock radio. Depending on the type of digital interface, you can also use the flashlight technique to detect any purplish glare that would indicate a camera lens.
Tissue Box Camera
This kind of camera uses an AC/DC power supply. It can be set anywhere you’d expect to see a tissue box and produces HD-quality video.
- 🔍 How To Find One: Look for a tissue box with an electrical cord protruding from it.
Mobile Phone Docking Station Camera
Mobile phone docking station cameras are some of the more sophisticated hidden camera devices around. They’re hard to detect, have a fully functional DVR system, and offer 4k resolution. They can be placed in any room with an available power supply.
- 🔍 How To Find One: Use a multi-purpose camera detection app that can detect Bluetooth and wireless scanning, and has a network scanner. Take note if the docking station is giving off RF, Bluetooth, or wireless signals. You can use the network scanner to check for unusual devices connected to the network.
Shower Gel Camera
Possibly one of the most invasive forms a hidden camera can take, the shower gel camera is both wireless and water-resistant. Built to look and function like a normal bottle of shower gel, it holds shower gel on top and all the required video equipment at the bottom.
- 🔍 How To Find One: Scan body wash and shower gel bottles with a flashlight and look for a lens. Placing cameras in bathrooms is illegal in most countries and you should contact law enforcement if you find one. Just to be safe, remove any complimentary body washes or shower gels from the bathroom and use your own instead.
Famous from police investigation movies, mirror cameras look like standard mirrors but are hollow in spots to contain video recording equipment.
- 🔍 How To Find One: To find mirror cameras, knock on the mirror and listen for any hollow sounds. A normal mirror will sound like knocking on a solid surface.
Other Ways to Detect Hidden Cameras
Here we look at a few more ways to test for hidden cameras. For instance, night-vision cameras will show a red light in the dark when you are within range of the cameras.
Some night-vision cameras use infrared light. Infrared cameras can be hard to detect but you can use your mobile phone to find them. Turn on your front-facing camera and scan the entire room while watching the screen. You’ll be able to see any infrared (IR) lights. Your rear-facing camera won’t work, as on most mobile phones these have filters that block out IR light – front-facing cameras don’t.
Some cameras give off radio frequency (RF) signals that can interfere with phone signals. To detect these cameras, make a phone call as you walk around the property and note any areas where you have poor reception or static interference. The worse your reception gets, the closer you may be to a hidden camera.
Where Are Hidden Cameras Typically Found?
Hidden cameras may be planted anywhere, but typically they’re found facing desk areas, near communal PCs, or in places where you might work and use your laptop. This has been known to happen in countries like Russia, China, and North Korea where trade secrets are coveted. The idea is to capture your keystrokes and gather information like passwords and usernames.
Defend Against Digital Surveillance
Surveillance has become extremely sophisticated and you could be being watched in more ways than one. For example, any of your apps could co-opt your camera for their own purposes. In fact, the US government has been caught tracking people by spying through mobile apps.
Surveillance software masquerading as innocent apps abound, even on legitimate app stores. You can learn more about how to spot a fake app here.
To protect yourself, be sure to read through the permissions you’re giving an app, and turn your camera off for all apps until you need it. Simple tricks like sticking a piece of tape over your camera lens can go a long way to protecting your privacy.
Malicious apps and spy cameras aren’t your only digital threat either – people could be spying on you through your internet connection. For example, using the Wi-Fi at your Airbnb could give the owner access to your device — including your camera. They might also be able to see your browsing history.
If you get PIA on all your devices, you’ll be able to protect yourself from anyone looking into your app or browser use. While PIA VPN can’t shield you from hidden cameras in the physical world, we can help ensure your own device isn’t used to spy on you, either by your apps, your ISP, the government, or your Airbnb Wi-Fi owner.
Our VPN encrypts all your traffic so no one can make any sense of it, and provides an all-in-one ad and malware blocker called MACE to stop surveillance software from infiltrating your device.
Stay Safe Out There
It’s never okay for someone to place a hidden camera in an area in which you have a reasonable right to privacy. If you find cameras in any bathrooms or bedrooms, take photos of the hidden cameras, leave them, and contact local law enforcement — never personally confront the owner of the rental.
You have the right to search for hidden cameras, but not to remove or destroy them. Remember that security cameras are not illegal, so long as you’ve been made aware of them in the listing, they are in plain view, and only in common areas.
Hidden cameras can look like tissue boxes, USB storage devices, smoke detectors, mirrors, and a range of other everyday items. This makes them easy to hide practically anywhere around the home.
Yes. Between camera detection, network scanning apps, and your flashlight, you can spot most types of hidden cameras. When scanning objects with your phone’s flashlight, look for the purplish glare typical of a camera lens reflection.
You can also download and use a camera detection app that can detect Bluetooth and wireless scanning, and has a network scanner. Read this article for more ways to spot various types of hidden cameras.
When you arrive at your hotel or Airbnb, pay attention to anything that looks out of place. Cords coming from tissue boxes, plants, or other objects you wouldn’t expect to have wires are a good indication a hidden camera might be present.
You can also try a camera detection app which scans for hidden cameras using your smartphone’s camera and augmented reality markers.
A network scanning app can help you detect any suspicious devices connected to your host’s Wi-Fi network. Just download a network scanning app to your smartphone and connect to your host’s Wi-Fi network, then look for any devices with strange names.
If you find cameras in an Airbnb or hotel rental, and they’re not mentioned in the listing, don’t move or remove them. If they are located in private areas, take photos of the cameras to document the evidence and then leave the premises.
Contact Airbnb and local law enforcement so they can investigate further — do not confront the host directly.
Hidden cameras aren’t that common in Airbnb rentals, as Airbnb expressly forbids hosts from using them. Even so, that doesn’t stop some owners from planting them on the property and occasionally in private areas like bathrooms and bedrooms. A survey by IPX1031 in 2023 found that 1 in 4 vacation rentals have hidden cameras — this number includes Airbnb and similar lodging options.
Multiple apps detect hidden cameras. Fing is a popular detection and recognition app that accurately locates hidden cameras. Network Analyzer Lite is one of the most downloaded network scanning apps. Both apps are available for iOS and Android.
Cameras aren’t the only way that Airbnb hosts can spy on you. All you need to do is connect to their Wi-Fi for them to track your online activity and potentially access your device. Do everything you can to protect your privacy, download PIA VPN to encrypt your traffic and connect to any Wi-Fi connection with confidence.