A German couple recently sued Airbnb after they discovered a concealed video camera in the apartment where they checked in, in Irvine, California.
The camera was remotely controllable and had audio and video recording capabilities, capturing private moments and causing the couple to take Airbnb and the owners of the apartment to court. The charges are negligence, privacy intrusion, infliction of emotional distress and wiretapping.
Yvonne Schumacher and Kevin Stockton, from Germany, consider that both the hospitality website and Fariah Hassim and Jamil Jiva, the apartment's owners, are to blame.
"At night Mrs. Schumacher would sleep without any clothing, believing that [...] she was protected from prying eyes," the complaint reads [PDF]. As the events unfolded, it became clear that her assumption was untrue.
During their third day in Irvine, the two German guests found a video camera concealed between two candles in the living room.
"The camera was actually moving, demonstrating that it was being remotely controlled by the camera's operator," according to the complaint.
Another notable aspect that made the Germans press charges was the fact that both Mr. Stockton and Mrs. Schumacher discussed "highly personal matters" during their stay, including details of their financial situation.
"Mrs. Schumacher 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," the complaint adds. As any adult couple who goes in vacation, it is natural for them to feel angry because of the hidden surveillance they were subject to.
Airbnb, which faced a similar scandal in January this year, risks having its reputation of open and trust-based community severely dented. The company said it has "zero-tolerance policy" for hidden cameras, and urges all hosts who have such gadgets to inform and ask for consent from their guests before using the cameras.
According to Schumacher's complaint, Airbnb should have vetted the couple who rented her their apartment beforehand. This is why she thinks that the e-rental portal is liable, alongside the hosting couple.
The complaint goes on to underline that the plaintiff was subject to shock, humiliation, emotional distress and embarrassment as a direct result of being recorded without her knowledge. To compensate for the extreme discomfort, the lawsuit asks for punitive damages, money damages and, of course, attorney's fees.
A spokesperson from Airbnb explained that his company "takes privacy issues extremely seriously." He further pointed out that hosts have to make sure that they respect all applicable laws in their locations. The respect for the guests' privacy is inherent to the quality of a good host, the Airbnb spokesperson concluded.