Taiwanese Airbnb host spies on Chinese couple with hidden cam

Chinese couple sues Taiwanese Airbnb owner for spying on them with hidden camera in smoke detectors


Video camera hidden in smoke detector. (Weibo image)

TAIPEI (Taiwan News) -- A Chinese couple to their horror discovered that they were being secretly filmed by the owner of the Airbnb accommodation they were staying in using cameras hidden in smoke detectors.

On February 1 of this year, the couple, a male surnamed Zhang and a female surnamed Liu, while traveling to Taiwan from their native Hangzhou, China, chose to book a room at an Airbnb in Kaohsiung near the airport. 

The owner of the Airbnb apartment, a Mr. Yeh (葉), set off a red flag with the couple when he pressed a biometric sensor with his finger to unlock the door to the apartment and to the room itself.  

When Zhang, who works as a photographer, decided to take a bath, he became suspicious of the smoke detector in the room, as there were two other smoke detectors in the small, 20-ping apartment (a ping equals 3.3 square meters). He then stood on a chair and to his horror discovered that there was indeed a small camera inside the smoke detector with its indicator light still on. They then discovered another smoke detector in the entranceway had a camera as well. 

The couple immediately alerted the police who confirmed that the cameras had captured footage of the couple watching television in the bedroom and Zhang taking a shower. The police then found three other rooms owned by Yeh to be modified to accommodate tiny, concealed cameras, reported BC News. Liu said that she started to experience heart palpitations when she realized that they had been secretly filmed. 

Yeh at first claimed that he was not aware of the cameras, saying that a previous owner must have installed them. However, he later said that he had installed them to help enforce Airbnb's no smoking policy inside the rooms. 

Location of one of the smoke alarms with camera hidden inside. (Weibo image)

Ironically, Liu said that she had chosen the place because of good reviews it had been given on Airbnb and that it had marketed itself as a safe place for foreign travelers. 

After the incident as reported in the media, the owner swiftly sold the apartment, according to Liberty Times

Airbnb later apologized for the incident on its Weibo (Chinese equivalent to Twitter) page: 

"For any violation of privacy, we are adopting a zero tolerance policy. I am sorry to see that our users on the platform are subject to privacy violations, we have immediately moved the landlord Airbnb from the community, and for the tenant to provide a full refund.

The landlord must fully inform the location of the camera or other surveillance equipment installed in or near the premises and seek the consent of the tenant. The camera installed in the bathroom or in the room is absolutely not allowed."

The couple claims that they were never able to contact Airbnb and they have never received a response in the six months since the incident occurred, while Airbnb claims to have contacted and apologized to the couple. 

Meanwhile, the pair is suing Yeh for NT$3 million (US$99,000) in damages, and the first court hearing will take place this Friday (Aug 18), reported SETN

Liu is concerned about how many other people had been unwittingly victimized since Yeh first purchased the apartment in 2014,  and she wonders if he may have sold some of the video online.