You Can’t Hide Your Prying Eyes

The online service Airbnb is currently a defendant in a federal lawsuit pending in the Northern District of California.   The case arises for the unfortunate experience of Yvonne Schumacher. Kevin Stockton apparently used Airbnb to arrange for a stay at the home of Fariah Hassim and Jamil Jiva.  The rental period was from December 16, 2013 to January 12, 2014.  Mr. Stockton invited Ms. Schumacher to stay there with him.  According to the complaint, the property was “quite filthy.”  But that turned out to be the least of Ms. Schumacher’s problems.   

Ms. Schumacher preferred to sleep naked. Which necessarily meant she walked from the bedroom to the guest bathroom with no clothes on.  To her chagrin, at some point during her stay, Ms. Schumacher discovered a remote controlled camera that captured the activity in the hall way between the bedroom and the guest bathroom.  The camera also picked up activity in the living room. According to the complaint, during their stay, Mr. Stockton and Ms. Schumacher discussed intimate and personal matters in the living room.   

Long story short, Ms. Schumacher sued the property owners for invasion of privacy and Airbnb for negligence.  The gist of her complaint against Airbnb is that it failed to properly screen participants in its program to nip the surreptitious recording in the bud.  

I think Airbnb is going to come out on top here, for several reasons.    First, the nature of the Airbnb business suggests that it should win.  Airbnb doesn’t control the activities of the home owners who use it to rent their space.  And how could it? If Ms. Schumacher contended Airbnb had some notice that the property owners routinely filmed guests, that might be one thing. But the complaint contains no such allegation.   

Second, check out the Airbnb terms of service.  They disclaim liability for pretty much everything, including, but not limited to, anything you could possibly imagine.  That is actually not a direct quote, but it captures the gist.  

Third, even if Airbnb didn’t have such all-encompassing terms, does Ms. Schumacher’s harm directly result from a failed vetting process?  What’s to stop a host from lying when asked “do you film your guests without their knowledge”?    Hard to pin this one on Airbnb in my view.  

And for readers, here are some tips for using Airbnb in light of this case.

  1. Ask the host if there are any hidden cameras, and if so, where.
  2. Request they be disabled during your stay.
  3. Frankly, regardless of the answer to question 2, consider pajamas. Lots of options.