The Barker family was settling into their Airbnb in Cork, Ireland, another stop on their 14-month trek around Europe, when they discovered something disturbing.
On the ceiling in the living room, hidden inside a detector, was a camera. The family said it confronted the homeowner and complained to Airbnb, setting off a month-long saga with the company that has drawn international attention.
Barker wrote on Facebook:
Only this week, after 33 days and stays from 10 other “unsuspecting” guests, Airbnb removed the listing and problematic host.
“The safety and privacy of our community is our priority,” Airbnb said in a statement Saturday. “Airbnb policies strictly prohibit hidden cameras in listings and we take reports of any violations extremely seriously. We have removed the host from our platform. Our original handling of this incident did not meet the high standards we set for ourselves, and we have apologized to the family and fully refunded their stay. There have been over half a billion guest arrivals in Airbnb listings to date and negative incidents are incredibly rare.”
The Barkers, a crew of two adults and five children, only found the camera because Nealie Barker’s husband, Andrew, works in IT. He connected his phone to the WiFi network and noticed a device labeled “IP camera” .
He scanned that device’s ports and found the live video feed - “We were all watching ourselves on his mobile phone.”
Andrew Barker called the owner to “ask what was going on,” Nealie Barker wrote on the family blog. The host hung up. He later called back and said there was only one camera in the home, the one the family had already discovered. “We didn’t feel relieved by that,” Barker told CNN.
There is no way to know whether the camera was recording, and when they asked the host he refused to answer. They asked if it was recording audio, and again he refused to answer.
Hosts must disclose to guests if they are actively recording, according to the rules. If they do not, or if guests are informed after they book the listing, Airbnb permits cancellations and refunds. The policy states that Airbnb hosts might face cancellation penalties.
In 2018, Airbnb added another feature to bookings. If hosts indicate there are cameras on site, the feature flags their location and prompts guests to click an “agree” box — ensuring they’ve been alerted to the recording devices.