When you stay in a hotel room, you expect that you can walk around naked without secret cameras filming you. But Airbnb rooms aren't hotel rooms, are they?
A German woman named Yvonne Schumacher is suing her Airbnb hosts for $75,000 for putting her up in a California rental where there was a camera hidden between some candles in the living room.
"Mrs. Schumacher used the bathroom for the guest room, meaning that she walked naked through the apartment from the master bedroom to the guest bathroom," the lawsuit states. "In doing so, she walked within full view of the property's living room."
The lawsuit doesn't just go after the hosts, who left a camera out where it could film guests, but also Airbnb, which the lawsuit claims "fails/failed to engage in any meaningful background checks of the lessors" and "fails/failed to put into place policies and procedures to protect the constitutionally protected rights of privacy and seclusion of the third parties renting the properties through Airbnb."
"Though we do not comment on pending litigation we will defend it vigorously," an Airbnb spokesperson told Mic. "Airbnb takes privacy issues extremely seriously. All hosts must certify that they comply with all applicable laws in their locations and are of course expected to respect the privacy of their guests. Airbnb asks hosts to fully disclose whether there are security cameras or other surveillance equipment at or around the listing and to get consent where required."
Always be mindful of your guests' privacy. Fully disclose whether there are security cameras or other surveillance equipment at or around your listing. Make sure you are aware of and comply with applicable federal, state and local laws.
Shortly after, Airbnb opened an investigation into a Montreal host when his group of guests found cameras under the TV in the living room, in the kitchen, and in a basket in one of the rooms, pointed right at the bed.
With a corporate hotel chain like a Ramada or Holiday Inn, the boundaries are clear: Putting up cameras in a hotel and filming guests while they're unaware violates a person's reasonable expectation of privacy. But Airbnb rooms, which are rented by private homeowners, exist in a gray space between a private residence, where it's legal to install hidden surveillance devices like nanny cams, and a hotel room.
For now, it's the Wild West, and laws regarding privacy and surveillance are handled on a state-by-state basis.
Airbnb, of course, benefits from billing its spaces as private rooms. This is how it skirts leasing laws in places like New York City and San Francisco, where it has fought to maintain the legality of its listings. But in the same way that Uber has been forced to give ground to drivers who exist in the gray space between employee and contractor, these kinds of lawsuits could help create standards for how the law treats Airbnb.
For now, it's the Wild West, and laws regarding privacy and surveillance are handled on a state-by-state basis. Our recommendation: Ask your host if he or she has cameras in the house. And maybe double-check the TV stand or the mantle, just to be sure.
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