Two years ago, during a month-long trip to California, Edith Schumacher stayed in a house in Irvine, California that her partner Kevin Stockton had booked via Airbnb. While staying in the house, they did what people do when they think they are alone. They walked around naked. They talked about their relationship. They talked about "highly personal matters," including their finances. But on the third day of their stay at the Airbnb, they suddenly felt very self-conscious, because, according to a lawsuit filed this week, they found a camera hidden between candles on a shelf that had, presumably, been recording everything they had done.
Schumacher, a German resident, is now suing the couple that put the home on Airbnb for invasion of privacy and emotional distress, as well as Airbnb itself, for negligence, arguing that the company should perform background checks on hosts and is responsible for her creepy experience. Schumacher says in her suit, which was first reported by The Recorder, that she told Airbnb about the hidden camera, but that the company continued to let the couple who owned the home, Fariah Hassim and Jamil Jiva, rent it out on Airbnb. That's surprising given that Airbnb has previously said it has a "zero tolerance policy" for hidden cameras and would immediately remove a host who secretly taped his or her guests.
"Though we do not comment on pending litigation we will defend it vigorously. Airbnb takes privacy issues extremely seriously," said an Airbnb spokesperson via email. "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 warns hosts to fully disclose whether there are security cameras or other surveillance equipment at or around the listing and to get consent where required."
Airbnb didn't actually add a warning to its hosts not to secretly film guests until November 2014, according to the Observer, a full year after Schumacher's surreptitiously recorded December 2013 Airbnb vacation.
Schumacher is not the first Airbnb guest to find a camera hidden in her rental. Earlier this year, people renting an Airbnb in Canada found that three hidden Dropcams were unexpectedly included in their rental. With small, internet-connected cameras getting smaller and easier to use, it's a good idea to take a look around for that tell-tale glowing eye before taking off your clothes in a stranger's home. But you can also imagine why an Airbnb host might want a camera in their home; this year in San Francisco, an Airbnb renter was caught on camera stealing valuables from a locked office in a home.
Even if people installing cameras in their homes are doing it for security reasons rather than creepy, spying reasons, they can break state and federal privacy laws by recording visitors without their knowledge. Hassim and Jiva, the Airbnb hosts sued by Schumacher, did not respond to emails or voicemail messages.
Schumacher's lawyer said he couldn't say more about the suit, or how Schumacher knows that the owners of the home actually recorded her, though the complaint says that "certain events demonstrate that the oral communications by and with Mrs. Schumacher within the property were intercepted by [Hassim and Jiva]."
"Mrs. Schumacher is deeply humiliated and angry about the fact that the camera was and/or could have been used to spy upon her while she was completely undressed and walking around within the property," wrote her lawyers in the complaint. "Moreover, she has been and continues to be concerned that images of her exist in electronic form and could make their way onto the Internet or some other medium."
Let's hope no one starts an Airbnb revenge porn blog.