In a blog post, an AirBnb guest shares his experience of staying at a property and to his shock there were cameras in the rooms.
You’re off to a vacation to somewhere, naturally you need a place to stay. In this digitized age, AirBnB seems to be the go to stay service. It is popular and was considered a reliable service by many. But over the years their service has noticeably degraded with complaints from guests. Among many of the cases, the delayed solution or the lack thereof has left the guests dissatisfied. In this case, the matter did take a turn of events to present the guest with redressal.
Jeffrey Bigham, a computer science professor at Carnegie Mellon University was staying in an AirBnB. Initially, he noticed a white object in the top corner of the room he rented. Upon further inspection he found that it was a camera. He found another near the bathroom exit. In the online page for the property, there were pictures of the rooms in which one camera was seen but barely. The description mentioned only “at the entrance,” for placement of cameras. These however, were clearly inside the room.
Bigham also took it to Twitter:
check out this picture from an @Airbnb I recently stayed at in Seattle — notice anything concerning?
if you manage to spot it, that's great, because Airbnb considers this photo to be proper disclosure… 1/n pic.twitter.com/gj9XFcaZoe
— Rogue P. Bigha📢!! (@jeffbigham) January 15, 2019
Naturally, Bigham disconnected the cameras and contacted AirBnB. After knowing this, the host went as far as to send someone to spy on the guests and left a bad review. On initial contact with AirBnB support, they told Bigham that the image was a proper disclosure of both the cameras. After many reviews, a senior person from the AirBnB team admitted that the image does give proper disclosure about the camera situation. Bigham received a refund for his stay.
Bigham writes in his blog: “I feel like our experience is in some ways more insidious. If you find a truly hidden camera in your bedroom or bathroom, AirBnB will support you. If you find an undisclosed camera in the private living room, AirBnB will not support you.”
Some AirBnB hosts are opting to keep cameras as a security measure incase anything happens, but it’s clearly a privacy violation any genuine guest shouldn’t have to face.
As Scott Riley, the author of Mindful Design puts it in his book promo, “a lot of the mainstream design practices out there definitely couldn’t claim to be making a net positive on the world. Tech as a whole harms, oppresses and manipulates because it’s used as a tool within an oligarchical power structure; but I truly believe that technology and design (as a tool for simplifying complex systems) can democratize and empower and bring about societal shifts for the better.
It starts with compassion, and a refusal from the inside to implement negligent or oppressive practices, products or systems. Technology that exists to augment and ease human nature is going to be more and more important in this, and I really hope we can break free from the bullshit of behaviorism in design and explore what it really means to aide in self-determination and cognitive unburdening.”
The AirBnB team could take a leaf out of such thinkers to better balance the fine line of protecting their user privacy while guaranteeing hosts the security of their properties through mindful design thinking and policy formulation.