Vacation Rental Guest Privacy and Smart Home Gadgets Dilemma


Security is a concern for both hosts and guests.

At the Airbnb Open conference last year, I talked to many fellow hosts and learned all kinds of tips and tricks about design, marketing and developing deeper human connections with guests.  As it related to security topics, we learned about Smart Locks (love them!) and Airbnb also presented valuable material on how, as a host or guest, to avoid phishing (account hacking) schemes. What hasn’t been talked about is the home safety versus guest privacy dilemma!

As the Instant Booking debate is heating up (getting forced on hosts), it’s about time we talk about the dos and don’ts of what’s possible (and legal) to protect private residences and vacation rentals.

During a lunchtime break at Airbnb Open in Paris, I sat down next to a woman who owned a couple vacation rental properties and I asked her how she was protecting her homes from parties and even worse guest behavior like people using their home for a brothel (yikes!) or drug manufacturing / distribution location (gasp!).  Very calmly, she replied was that she installed cameras inside her home.  What??!!! Isn’t that illegal?  After checking with various sources, it is illegal and of course you can find some publically-posted lawsuits (such as in California and Montreal ) about cameras put in a house. A good friend of mine rented a Napa home for her birthday – using VRBO – and found and photographed a video camera in the home!  Yes – this is a very nice (and expensive) home, but come on. Isn’t there a better way?

Certainly, hotels have security procedures in place. Shouldn’t hosts / vacation rental homes?  But just as important, it’s important not to go the DIY way and end up with a lawsuit on your hands!

After consulting legal experts and talking to many hosts, these are my take-aways;

12 Privacy and Security Tips for VR professionals 

  1. No video cameras in the house!!! (Obviously!)  That is not cool – plus illegal!
  2. For the same reason, don’t put a voice recorder device in the house.
  3. Even if you didn’t install it – watch out to make sure a listening device isn’t installed on your network that could gain access to private information, like usernames or passwords. — it’s an edge case, but here’s what you do to check it out
  4. Make sure your guests have been verified and are listed on the reservation. It’s your right to have this information, but there is also a box you can check on Airbnb and VRBO which forces at least the host to upload a photo of their driver’s license or passport. {This info is securely held by the listing company}.
  5. Using a Smart Lock so that guests don’t have a key to your home. (Instead – they use a code, which can be set up on a temporary basis).
  6. Store your internet router in a locked closet if at all possible – According to security researcher, Jeremy Galloway: “Lock the router up and it keeps it away from people that are curious … the point isn’t to create perfect security, the point is to raise the bar. Right now all an attacker needs to do to own a network is want to.”
  7. Use a smart sensor, such as Party Squasher, which counts the number of mobile devices in your house and alerts you if your maximum threshold was reached.
  8. Be sure to disclose to guests if you’re using a home monitoring system.  Your house rules is a perfect place for this disclosure info.
  9. Make sure what whatever tool you provide doesn’t collect private information… and if it does, it needs some technical processes in place protect and ideally anonymize that information. You can learn more by reading their privacy policy. In developing Party Squasher, we gave a lot of thought to host and guest privacy.
  10. Be careful when you use shared computers or laptops, obviously protect your personal passwords (for example bank accounts and email) and don’t store this information on someone else’s computer.  I set up a separate profile on my shared guest computer and between guests, I clear the cache.
  11. Enlist the help of a neighbor who can keep an eye out for extra cars, without having to go inside the property.
  12. Be aware of identity thieves or just snoopy guests. Don’t leave things like tax records or bank account info lying around. Lock private info in a safe or other secure location.

Make sure everything you do is privacy friendly!  It’s a must! Tell users that you’re using technology to help enforce your house rules… just that alone may prevent them from choosing your listing in the first place.


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