This is what keeps Airbnb hosts up at night: The prospect that a seemingly nice guest’s “quiet weekend away” is actually a front for an epic rager.
Enter Party Squasher: A router-connected black box that purports to monitor the number of nearby cellphones, and send users a text alert when it detects too many. The idea, of course, is that just about everybody has a cellphone, and that counting these devices can serve as a reasonable proxy for party people.
According to manufacturer Bluefox.io, which makes phone-detecting devices for brands and retail looking to monitor foot traffic, the idea for Party Squasher came after Airbnb host and entrepreneur Amanda Mills came home to a trashed house. After seeing Bluefox.io’s technology in action at a trade show, the two parties teamed up to create a version of the company’s mobile phone-sensing devices specifically for the home
As a longtime Airbnb host, I was curious to see if the product delivers, and decided to put it to the test. Setup was straightforward and easy. You plug the device (the black puck form factor looks a bit like an Apple TV, and is the very definition of discreet) into your wireless router. After downloading an accompanying app (I used the Android version, which I found to be a bit buggy when running on a Google Pixel, though I imagine that will be fixed soon enough), I was asked to specify a search radius—if you have a smaller house or live very close to your neighbors, you want this to be on the smaller side—and the number of wireless devices that will be required to trigger an alert. The whole setup process took me about two minutes.
My findings: For party-fearing short-term rental hosts, Party Squasher might make a lot more sense if you live outside a city. I tested the device in a Brooklyn apartment building with multiple units stacked on top of each other and a router shoved up against a shared wall. Even with the device’s search radius set to a low setting such as 30 feet, it was very clear that it was picking up my neighbors’ phones. The number of phones detected seemed to be continually in flux. At one point, the app alerted me via text message that 18 devices were on premises, even though I was home alone. Thankfully, to make things more useful for these situations, the app has a feature called “Calibration Mode” that allows small-space users to more specifically home in on the detection area.
I had better luck taking the device to a more isolated house in upstate New York. Here, the measured phone count was more stable, with fewer of my neighbors’ devices entering the mix. While I did not leave the device in this house for an actual party, I feel as though it would have worked as advertised in this setting.
In the end, the best and most important line of defense against party-hearty Airbnb guests is common sense screening (the site has reviews for a reason, and that local guy looking to rent your house for one night probably isn’t up to any good). Still, I can see the Party Squasher turning into a useful tool for hosts—especially ones with somewhat isolated properties—looking to fight back against overly festive guests. And for parents who worry that their teenage children might turn a weekend away into a scene from Risky Business, telling kids that the phone count will be monitored could be all it takes to deter disaster.
The Party Squasher costs $149, which the company breaks down as $50 for the box, and $99 for a one-year subscription to its service.
Source: SANS ISC SecNewsFeed @ February 22, 2017 at 07:27AM