Airbnb Renovations

Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky speaks during an event Thursday, Feb. 22, 2018, in San Francisco. 

You've heard the horror stories--families finding hidden cameras in their Airbnb rentals.

Take the Barker family in Cork, Ireland, who discovered a tiny, hidden camera inside a smoke detector, watching their every move in the living room of their vacation rental.

I've stayed in plenty of Airbnbs around the world, and this research makes me almost embarrassed to admit that the last thing I thought to look for was a hidden camera.

Collin Czarnecki, a content strategist and researcher at Digital Third Coast, said it's happening more than you think.

"There was another recent story about a guest staying at an Airbnb in China that also found a hidden camera in a wifi router, so it's definitely an issue that seems to be popping up a lot recently," he said.

So do you feel safe when staying in a vacation rental? A new survey, conducted on behalf if IPX 1031, a Fortune 500 investment property exchange services company, which deals with investment property owners, sought to explore the mindsets of both guests and hosts. The survey also covered a wide-range of issues from privacy concerns and security issues to amenities.

"We found that 58 percent said they're actually worried about hidden cameras inside's definitely been pretty prevalent recently in areas around the world where people are vacationing, and also 11 percent say they've actually discovered a hidden camera in an Airbnb, which is pretty surprising too," said Czarnecki.

Airbnb's guidelines allow for cameras in common areas like living rooms and kitchens, but private areas like bathrooms and bedrooms is against the rules. If cameras are present in common areas, the host has to disclose that information--so hidden cameras anywhere on property aren't permitted. But, it's not really something you tend to think about before going on vacation.

"I think with technology being so advanced now and with cameras being able to be placed in the smallest of areas, you've never suspect, so definitely a creepy aspect when it comes to security and privacy. I went to LA last year, and I rented an Airbnb, and it was like, I feel like you think about all these other things when you're planning your vacation...and that's definitely the last thing that was on my mind, but now, especially lately when you hear stories like this, it gives me a little bit of pause to kind of do some maybe James Bond-esque snooping around and make sure there's no cameras on the property."

As these issues become more prevalent, many are watching to see whether Airnbnb will take a bigger stand on the issue. In Ireland, the Barker family was refunded for their stay, and the host was removed from the platform. But The Atlantic reported that at least in four cases, Airbnb has applied its own rules inconsistently when investigating claims.

"The one sort of aspect that we dug into a little bit was asking whether or not since Airbnb, as long as it's within the listing and a disclaimer saying, 'this property has a camera within common areas.' Twenty-four percent said that they were OK with a camera in a common area, obviously, as long as it was listed on the property listing. So we'd definitely love to dive in a little bit more about that in terms of the response of what Airbnb's doing in terms of removing a host, if a camera is found on the property."

"I'm sure a lot of us read that story about the family stayed in Ireland, and I know that that host was removed from the platform, but it seems that this could potentially become more prevalent, what the repercussions are if a hidden camera is on a property, and also what Airbnb is doing prior to that to really enforce that rule."

When it comes to meeting their Airbnb host, Czarnecki said their survey found that's a big "no thanks."

"Seventy percent said that it was not an important factor--they prefer the route of either having a key FOB or a lock box and just sort of bypassing the host overall. But what was interesting was that 42 percent have actually researched their host on Google or social media before renting, so obviously it's weird that they're not interested in meeting the host, but they still want to know as much as they can about them in a digital aspect. But in terms of privacy to, it was also interesting to note that 25 percent said that they prefer their host to be among the same gender, and of those who prefer their host to be the same gender, 66 percent were female, and the most common reason was that they felt safer with the host being the same gender."

Are Airbnb users more likely to book a rental by a Superhost? Renters with Superhost status are known for providing extraordinary experiences for their guests.

"Twenty-eight percent said that it was very important the host was a Superhost...and about 50 percent said it was a somewhat important factor. Only about less than a quarter said it wasn't important at all."

But even Superhosts can be creepy.

"In China, that host was also a Superhost, so it's really interesting to know that you've really got to be careful no matter what when it comes to renting out--even if it says someone's a Superhost--definitely do all your research that you can prior to booking that listing," recommended Czarnecki.

With numerous options with Airbnb, where you can get the entire home to yourself, or a guest house with a host living somewhere on the property or sometimes you're just renting a bedroom in their home. What do folks prefer? Privacy definitely plays into this one.

"Overall, 52 percent prefer the entire house without a host living on the premises--so I think that's something too that in terms of preference... maybe even privacy come into mind too when people are preferring just to sort of have their own house all to themselves."

But even with concerns like hidden cameras on the rise, it's not stopping people from booking Airbnbs.

"Sixty-one percent actually said that they prefer Airbnb over a hotel, and one of the top reasons was privacy and also cost, and the uniqueness of a rental. Obviously, you can get some pretty unique types of listings outside of your standard hotel room, so that was pretty interesting that privacy was a top reason that they prefer Airbnb over a hotel, but then again, you're looking at the opposite end of that--who knows, you might run into a hidden camera."

Forty percent of those surveyed said they liked Airbnb's amenities better than hotels. The number one thing people want, according to the survey.

"Most important for Airbnb guests was wifi. It came in over sort of basic amenities you can think of like air conditioning, even a private bathroom, wifi still topped the list, so apparently, it's really important to have your wifi when you're on vacation. It even came well above things like cable TV," said Czarnecki.

Wifi over a private bathroom? ABSURD. Conducting my own impromptu survey, I asked co-workers their number one most-wanted amenity in an Airbnb one said air conditioning, one said soap, and another said: comfy sheets. When I told him wifi was what people wanted most he said: "I didn't even think of it because I assumed it would be there."

Another co-worker said: a spacious hot shower with good water pressure. Hard to find in Europe.

Assistant News Director

Amy Cherry is the Assistant News Director and an investigative journalist at WDEL. She joined WDEL's award-winning news team in 2010 from WBZ Newsradio 1030 in Boston and has received national accolades for reporting.