Two Airbnb users recently discovered a hidden camera pointed directly at the bed in the room they rented through the app, igniting a privacy debate involving the sharing economy that is long overdue.
Derek Starnes told reporters that after he and his wife found the camera hidden in the smoke detector, they were truly disturbed.
“My wife and I are distressed by this situation. I hope more victims will come forward,” he said.
Wayne Natt, the 56-year-old host who made the room available through the Airbnb app was eventually arrested on video voyeurism charges but is now out on bond.
Still, what happened to the Starnes could have happened to anyone, and while one of the victims was able to identify the camera because he works in the information technology sector, countless other Airbnb users who may not have the same background may never know they are being surveilled.
In that sense, apps and services that exist under the sharing economy umbrella may be seen as both a blessing and a curse.
It’s clear that technologies like Uber and Airbnb allow millennials, in particular, to obtain financial stability while helping others access riding and lodging services for a fraction of what they would spend on more mainstream, professional providers, such as taxis and hotels.
Still, there is obviously the risk that people providing rooms and rides through these systems are also capturing footage and audio from users. And as we know from experience, government agencies, such as the National Security Agency (NSA) or the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI), are eager to take advantage of these instances, even when unnecessary.
Tech companies have, in the past, suffered a great deal of pressure from government agencies to provide them with access to data that was seen as unconstitutional by experts, and yet, few media outlets expressed concerns associated with the risks involving the sharing economy.
Now that we know of at least one example of Airbnb users being spied on, or at least having found a room where the owner had the capability to spy on guests, we must ask ourselves if these companies are doing enough to secure users’ privacy.
If Aibnb doesn’t feel the urge to make sure it puts safeguards in place so that this type of surveillance doesn’t impact its customers, people may start feeling vulnerable using its services. And in no time, sharing economy platforms will eventually lose their popularity as a result.
Banner and thumbnail image credit: Reuters/Yuya Shino