Booking an Airbnb rental? Beware. Your Airbnb hosts might be spying on you (albeit with your permission). Airbnb has been quietly promoting – at a discount – several surveillance devices to prevent parties and noise that can disturb neighbors or get hosts into legal trouble.
Sounds creepy? Maybe. But the company has had far too many incidents of unconscionable guest behavior and has finally decided to do something about it.
The devices being promoted by Airbnb are “Minut,” “NoiseAware Indoor Sensor,” and “Roomonitor.” The goal of each of these is to help hosts detect noise issues in real-time so they can deal with them immediately. Fallout from partying guests often include trashed homes, frustrated neighbors, and serious after-effects for hosts, and Airbnb hopes these third-party devices will do something to protect everyone involved in the Airbnb rental process.
Minut: Minut allows hosts to monitor noise, temperature, motion, and humidity in their residences. It also serves as an alarm, alerting hosts when their home is empty. Minut doesn’t need to be plugged into an outlet, so hosts can install the device anywhere they want.
The cost of the device is $99. Monitoring is free.
NoiseAware Indoor Sensor: Excessive noise for an extended period of time – that’s when hosts should worry their homes are being misused. NoiseAware Indoor Sensor was created to identify exactly that. Hosts are alerted when high noise levels are detected and sustained for several minutes.
The cost of the device is $149. The monitoring subscription is $10 a month or $99 a year.
Roomonitor: Roomonitor allows for real-time noise monitoring. It also provides hosts with alerts of possible noise incidents. Hosts have the option to customize noise levels on their devices.
The cost of the device is $39. The monitoring subscription is $8.50 a month.
Airbnb has been transparent about how these devices can be used in Airbnb rentals. First, the devices must be visible and guests must be told about them. Second, no devices can be installed in bathrooms or bedrooms. And finally, the devices cannot record audio or video. Airbnb has also said that, although it’s offering hosts steep discounts, it does not endorse any of these third-party products.
Despite the rules the company has put in place and despite claims that these devices will not compromise guests’ privacy, privacy advocates are concerned. They recognize that Airbnb needs to do something to keep listings as risk-free as possible, but the larger questions of how these devices manage data – What data is stored? Is it stored securely? – have yet to be answered.
The ability for hosts to purchase party-prevention devices on Airbnb’s platform is still relatively recent, and therefore guests’ reaction to them is still somewhat unknown. Will they catch on with hosts? Will guests be bothered by them? Or will they soon become the norm when staying at an Airbnb rental?
Regardless, many have been struggling with the broader question of how we, as a society, tread the line between safety and privacy, and finding the right balance is something companies have been trying – and often times failing – to do. But as technology becomes more sophisticated and more entrenched in our lives, the need to figure it out becomes more pressing.