Privacy clash: Airbnb bans CCTV as Cabinet insists on surveillance

The battle for privacy in Airbnbs has taken a new twist after the company and the government took opposing stands on the presence of CCTV cameras.

The Cabinet on Wednesday passed a resolution requiring homes to have CCTV cameras while Airbnb banned the gadgets two days earlier.

According to a dispatch from the meeting, the resolution was made in response to public concerns over crimes committed in the listed houses.

“Maintain Closed-Circuit Television (CCTV) cameras in all common areas and ensuring that the footage is recorded, stored and can be retrieved if and when need arises,” it reads.

It also requires owners to keep an updated register documenting the verified identity of a person entering and exiting the premises supported by proper identification documents.

The government wants access to the entry and exit times of the customers.

The resolution will also see owners ensure the homes are guarded by properly registered private security service providers.

President William Ruto’s administration also wants owners to maintain an accurate log of all automobiles entering or departing from the premises.

“Maintain a security occurrence book to record daily significant incidents and notable events relating to the safety and security of residents, guests and service providers,” reads the dispatch.

The company banned the installation of surveillance cameras on March 11 announcing that it would come into effect from April 30.

“After this, reported violations of this policy brought to our attention will be investigated, and action we take can include listing or account removal,” said Airbnb.

Before the announcement, Airbnb had allowed cameras in common areas like hallways, kitchens and living rooms but the owners needed to declare their existence while listing them on the website.

However, cameras were not allowed in bedrooms or bathrooms.

“Airbnb is banning the use of indoor security cameras in listings globally as part of efforts to simplify our policy on security cameras and other devices and to continue to prioritise the privacy of our community,” reads a statement on their website.

According to Airbnb, the policy update simplifies their approach and makes clear that cameras are not allowed in listings regardless of their purpose, location or prior disclosure.

“These changes were made in consultation with our guests, hosts and privacy experts, and we’ll continue to seek feedback to help ensure our policies work for our global community,” said Juniper Downs, its Head of Community Policy and Partnerships.

Airbnb is also seeking to control the use of cameras located outside the houses as well as the use of decibel monitors.

“Hosts will be required to disclose the presence and general location of any outdoor cameras before guests book.”

The outdoor cameras should not focus on areas like enclosed outdoor showers or saunas.

Owners of homes listed in the platform are also required to disclose the presence of noise decibel monitors which are only allowed in common spaces of listings.

The disclosure will include the access decibel level and owners are prohibited from recording or transmitting sounds or conversations.

Safety concerns have seen a closer focus on the platform in Kenya following several incidents including murders.

In response, the government issued regulations among them requiring owners to register and provide the Tourism Regulatory Authority (TRA) with relevant documents to get an operating certificate.

Most of the properties listed on the platform are located in cities and major towns across the country, targeting guests and tourists who need places to stay for a short period.

According to the Tourism Ministry, Kenya has more than 40,000 homes listed on the platform but out of these only 400 are registered with the Tourism Fund.