Whenever you choose to stay somewhere that isn’t your own home, whether it’s at a hotel or with a friend or family member, you’re always operating with a certain degree of faith that things are going to go the way they’re supposed to. Any time you step outside of your house you’re naturally giving up a certain amount of privacy in that people can see and hear what you’re doing. However, there are limits to this idea — or at least, there are supposed to be.

Hidden Camera

One man learned the hard way that this faith may not be entirely warranted, particularly when you’re dealing with: a) a total stranger that you’ve never met before and have no relationship with; and b) a giant national corporation that only cares about their bottom line. Recently, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University — a man named Jeffrey Bigham — rented an Airbnb so he and his family could stay in it while they were on vacation for a few days. What happened next should enrage absolutely everybody — but unfortunately, surprise absolutely nobody.

The Airbnb and the Hidden Camera: The Story So Far

As Jeffrey Bigham and his family checked into their Airbnb, he immediately began to take a look around the room. Almost instantly, he noticed not one but two curious white objects “hiding in plain sight.” After further examination, they turned out to be hidden security cameras in the room he was going to be sleeping in.

Shocked, he unplugged the cameras — but his story didn’t end there. During discussions with the property manager before he and his family checked in, he was told that there were cameras “at the entrance” — but not anywhere else. Upset at what is a fairly blatant invasion of his own privacy, he immediately disclosed his findings to Airbnb’s corporate headquarters… and their response left a lot to be desired to say the least.

Airbnb officials told him that this really wasn’t a big deal at all, because the cameras had been “disclosed” to him before he ever booked the home. He reiterated that he was told that cameras were only going to be positioned at entrances and exits, NOT anywhere else. Airbnb still didn’t care and reminded him of the fact that the hosts “properly disclosed the camera in a picture along with their original listing.”

To their credit, Airbnb was quick to give Mr. Bigham a refund for his stay. But their stance on the privacy of other people is concerning. After this story began to pick up national news attention, Airbnb essentially reversed their course on the subject. They issued a statement that reads, in part: Our community’s privacy and safety is our priority, and our original handling of this incident did not meet the high standards we set for ourselves. We have apologized to Mr. Bigham and fully refunded him for his stay.

Airbnb also made it clear that hosts are technically supposed to “clearly disclose” any security cameras in writing in their listings in accordance with the company’s strict standards. How the company was able to go from “the owner disclosed the cameras; you’re out of luck” to “this does not meet our strict standards governing surveillance” so quickly remains to be seen. But maybe the most irritating thing of all about this is that Bigham, rightfully upset, was given a bad review by the homeowner for unplugging the camera in the first place.

If anything, this should serve as a valuable reminder that we all need to be more protective of our own privacy, as a little bit more of it is slipping away every single day. Airbnb is still used by millions of people all over the world, and as stories like this become more common on a regular basis, it’s clear that situations like Mr. Bigham’s are only the tip of the proverbial iceberg. It’s a topic we’ll all be watching very, very closely for years to come.