To the average person, directional microphones, hidden cameras, and other surveillance equipment are the stuff of spy movies. Yet such devices can be found everywhere: from small rented apartments to expensive hotel rooms, from the office to the gym, even in your own home. Today, we explore ways to find them.
Big Brother’s little siblings
Miniature cameras are inexpensive (at the time of this writing, prices start at about $4), and they connect to regular Wi-Fi to transfer data — say, to the cloud. That means pretty much anyone can play at being a spy in real life. Why would they?
In some cases, owners of rental apartments install them in case of theft or damage to property. Suspicious spouses and unscrupulous rivals have other reasons. As do pranksters. Then, there are professional extortionists. Simply put, loads of people have loads of excuses.
How likely are you to encounter surveillance in everyday, private life? A survey of Airbnb users revealed that 11% of respondents had come across a hidden camera in rented accommodations. And those are just the ones who found something; not every renter carefully inspects the furnishings. What’s more, finding such cameras is not always easy. Lenses may be as small as 2 millimeters in diameter, and the box is usually hidden or camouflaged. How are you supposed to know you’re being spied on?
Method 1. Hire an expert
The most reliable way to find hidden spy equipment is to entrust the search to a qualified technician with professional equipment. Today, you can find such experts in almost any city; for example, on Craigslist or another website with classified ads.
- Reliable results
- Minimal personal effort
- Potential wait time
- Hotel or apartment restrictions
If you are worried and plan to stay somewhere for a while, or if you’re moving in, hiring an expert may be worth the time and money.
Method 2. Use dedicated equipment
You can buy electromagnetic radiation detectors, optical detectors, and other equipment for detecting hidden cameras and use them to check each room yourself. The cheapest ones, with a detection radius of only a few feet, start at $3; professional and more powerful ones are obviously more expensive.
Incidentally, the simplest optical detector can be assembled manually; all you need are some red LEDs and a red-light filter. Direct the light at the suspected camera site and look through the filter — any camera lens in view will appear as a bright dot. Bear in mind that the range of such a device will not exceed ten meters (about 30 feet).
If you decide to check for yourself, pay particular attention to the bathroom and bedroom, where compromising footage might be filmed, as well as smoke detectors and household appliances, common hiding spots. Also check paintings, clocks, flower pots, and even toys.
- Option for regular checks
- DIY potential
- Short effective range
- Time and skill requirements
If you’re the only person you trust — and especially if you aren’t afraid of soldering some LEDs —this method is for you.
Method 3. Use a smartphone
Sometimes you can do without special equipment and just use your smartphone camera and a flashlight. Turn off the lights and draw the curtains (the room must be dark), turn on both the flashlight and phone camera, and point them where you think a hidden device might be lurking. If your suspicions are correct, you will see a glare on the smartphone screen. If you can’t use the phone’s camera and flashlight simultaneously, use a separate flashlight.
In some cases, you can even do without a flashlight. Many spy cameras use infrared illumination for filming in the dark. It is invisible to the human eye but not to a smartphone camera. When filming in the dark, the infrared light source will appear on the screen as a pulsing dot. Keep in mind that your smartphone’s main camera may not do the trick, because it probably has an IR-light filter, so the front camera is a better bet. You can experiment with a TV remote to find out if your smartphone is good for the job.
- No special skills required
- No special equipment required
- Not all phone models are up to the job
- Inefficient — false positives are possible, and cameras without infrared radiation are not visible
This method is suitable only for a superficial inspection; it’s likely to miss something. Still, it’s better than nothing.
Method 4. Trust an app
Mobile apps for finding spy cameras and other hidden devices fall into two categories. The first group finds devices by the lens glare, as in the above-described method. Examples include Glint Finder, which detects the glare (or glint) when the light of a flashlight hits a lens. Once that happens, you just have to check the areas for any hidden devices.
Apps of the second group are designed to search for wireless spy devices. For them to work, you need to connect to the local Wi-Fi. After scanning the router, the app displays a list of connected devices. Check any you’re not completely sure about, such as your smartphone and laptop. A dedicated tool can help you distinguish harmless equipment from tracking devices by the identifier.
- Reasonably efficient
- Minimal costs
- No equipment required beyond a compatible smartphone
- Inferior to specialized devices
- Unsuitable for smart homes with many connected devices
- Unsuitable for hotel Wi-Fi and other public routers with many connected devices
Specialist software occupies the middle ground between professional equipment and improvised means. It’s probably the best option for cautious travelers, provided they use a trusted app.
What to do if you detect a spying device
If you find something that looks like a camera or other tracking device, take a photo of it and do an image search to find out what it might be. It may be harmless.
But if your fears are confirmed, you should contact the police, hotel administration, or the booking service you used. For example, AirBnB rules explicitly prohibit hidden cameras, so at least some affected guests have gotten refunds or different accommodations.
Better safe than sorry
We’ve discussed a few ways to make sure that no extortionist, TikTok prankster, or landlord is filming you without permission. But hidden cameras are not the only danger when traveling. Here are some general tips to help you stay safe in unfamiliar surroundings:
- Take an external battery to stay connected at all times;
- Download apps to help your trip go more smoothly, such as maps, dictionaries, and translators;
- Don’t leave valuables unattended;
- Never use public computers or terminals for private messaging, logging in to accounts, or online shopping;
- Use a VPN app to protect your data from hackers, as well as to have access to content that’s not available in the country you are visiting.