Does Hidden Camera in Garden Grove Expose a Larger Airbnb Problem?

Where there’s a smoke detector, there’s fire?

A Santa Ana couple says they are so creeped out over finding a camera in what appeared to be a smoke detector over their bed in a Garden Grove Airbnb on March 26 that they are considering legal action.

Christian Aranda and Alondra Salas made the discovery so late that they waited until the morning to call police, whose officers confirmed the camera was shut off and not recording.

Airbnb removed the listing for what host “Pauline” had advertised as “a cozy & romantic suite” that’s only “eight minutes to Disneyland,” and the online hospitality service also gave the couple a refund and put them up overnight in a hotel, whose management must have been delighted by getting as opposed to losing a booking from Airbnb for a change.

The victimized couple was still freaked out when television news reporters caught up with them. “She just said that they were off, and I was like, ‘It doesn’t matter if they’re off! They shouldn’t be there in the first place pointing at the bed,’” Aranda said of the Airbnb host to NBCLA.

“It’s disgusting, that there’s people out there, recording you, getting intimate,” Salas added to ABC7.

The negative publicity spurred Airbnb to issue a statement: “The safety and privacy of our community—both online and offline—is our priority. Airbnb’s policies prohibit hidden cameras in listings, and we take reports of any violations very seriously.”

The offending camera case (courtesy of Christian Aranda)

By total coincidence, The Atlantic published a report the same day as the couple’s Garden Grove stay with the headline, “Airbnb Has a Hidden Camera Problem.” Sidney Fussell’s expose was based on experiences from guests who found hidden cameras in Airbnbs around the world.

The “horrific stories from travelers” uncovered by The Atlantic raise serious concerns in the mind of Stop Child Predators’ Stacie Rumenap.

“These predator Airbnb hosts not only present an extremely difficult situation for guests, but also an extremely dangerous one,” she writes in an email. “Guests, and especially parents, are vulnerable to criminal hosts who could be filming them and their children without their knowledge for personal viewing, or even global audiences on the web.

“Airbnb already poses a problem for parents by allowing strangers, and even potential sex-offenders, into short-term rentals in residential family neighborhoods. Now parents need to consider the added stress of worrying that their children may be being filmed while away on vacation.”

Rumenap accuses Airbnb of deploying a “lack of meaningful and consequential actions to prevent this terrifying reality” and demonstrating an “inability to manage the users, and abusers, of their platform” while concluding, “It’s time for Airbnb to step up.”

OC Weekly Editor-in-Chief Matt Coker has been engaging, enraging and entertaining readers of newspapers, magazines and websites for decades. He spent the first 13 years of his career in journalism at daily newspapers before “graduating” to OC Weekly in 1995 as the alternative newsweekly’s first calendar editor.

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