In a world of constant surveillance, protecting your privacy is crucial. This is equally important at home as it is elsewhere. To get some peace of mind, thousands of people use smartphone apps to detect hidden cameras in homes, offices and rented properties.
A quick search on Android or Apple app stores shows dozens of results, with the most popular Android app having over 5 million downloads alone. These camera detection phone apps are incredibly popular, but it’s important to understand exactly how they work and what their capabilities and limitations are to avoid a false sense of security.
The effectiveness of hidden camera detection mobile apps will vary depending on the specific app and the capabilities of the smartphone’s sensors. While these apps can assist in identifying potential hidden cameras, they are not foolproof, and manual inspection of the area is still recommended for thorough detection.
How do camera detector apps work?
Spy camera detection apps find hidden cameras using three ways. They detect camera lens’ infrared lights, analyze strength of magnetic fields, or scan wireless networks for strange devices connected.
It’s crucial to understand exactly how each method works to ensure you use these smartphone apps correctly, and avoid getting a false sense of security. Let’s take a more in-depth look into each of these detection methods and explain how they work.
1. Infrared lights detection
Most mobile apps leverage the infrared (IR) capabilities of smartphones to detect hidden cameras that use IR technology for recording. These apps activate the smartphone’s IR sensor and camera to emit infrared light pulses. They then analyze the reflected light using the smartphone’s camera to identify any anomalies or reflections that may indicate the presence of a hidden camera. If the app detects a potential hidden camera, it alerts the user, providing them with information to locate and investigate the suspicious area.
Pointing your phone at a camera lens will show a distinct light, making it obvious there may be a surveillance device hidden in its field of view. For best results you should turn off all the lights in your room and make it as dark as possible. This will trigger hidden camera’s IR lights for night vision or low-light recording, which are invisible to the human eye.
This short clip demonstrates how an otherwise invisible infrared light gets picked up by a camera. You can test the same yourself by pointing your phone camera at any TV remote.
Another trick to detect night vision hidden cameras is to use your phone as a flashlight in a dark room, and point the light at a suspected camera. Many cheap hidden cams will emit a faint clicking noise when switching to and from night vision mode. Do note that not all cameras have night vision capabilities, but you can sometimes use this as confirmation that there’s a recording device hidden in an object.
You often won’t be able to perform an IR scan with your phone’s rear camera, since these frequently have infrared filters. For a successful IR sweep you may need to use your phone’s front-facing camera.
2. Magnetic fields detection
Hidden camera detection apps can also utilize the built-in magnetometer sensor in smartphones to detect magnetic fields emitted by certain types of hidden cameras. The app measures the ambient magnetic field strength and looks for any significant deviations that could indicate the presence of a hidden camera. Users can move their smartphones around the room, and the app will display real-time readings, helping them pinpoint potential hidden camera locations.
Sensitivity of magnetic sensors in your mobile phone depends on each device, so magnetic fields (or radiation, as some apps call it) detection might have mixed results depending on your phone model. Every electronic device emits some radiation, so expect this method to provide many false positives as well. It can point you in the right direction, so to speak, and your curiosity and suspicion should further examine a detected object to determine if it’s a surveillance device.
3. Wireless network scans
Mobile apps utilize the wireless capabilities of smartphones to detect hidden cameras that operate using wireless signals. These apps scan the surrounding area for any wireless transmissions typically used by hidden cameras, such as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth signals. By analyzing the signal strength and frequency, the app can identify suspicious devices that may indicate the presence of a hidden camera. Once a potential camera is detected, the app alerts the user with a notification, allowing them to investigate further and take appropriate action.
For Bluetooth hidden cameras, you will most likely need to look up the device name online to determine whether it could be a surveillance camera. None of the camera detection apps we tested have any sort of comprehensive database which would compare device names with known hidden cameras available on the market. But, even knowing there’s a strange Bluetooth device nearby can be a red flag, and you should always double-check to ensure it’s a legitimate device.
Hidden cameras using Wi-Fi networks to transmit video footage can sometimes be detected using a dedicated Wi-Fi network analyzer app. These network sniffers can even detect hidden WiFi networks, and may alert you to an unwelcome device in vicinity. Most spy cameras which can operate in Access Point (AP) mode will hide broadcasting their network ID, making it difficult to otherwise detect their networks.
Furthermore, some of these apps may show you all devices connected on your Wi-Fi network, making it easy to check for anything out of the ordinary. However, when connected to a Wi-Fi network, you generally cannot see the specific devices connected to the same network unless you have administrative access to the router or more advanced network monitoring tools in place. Devices would need network file sharing or network discovery enabled in order for you to see them, and hidden cameras will only have this in case they’re misconfigured.
A Radio Frequency (RF) scanner tool is far more reliable for detecting wireless cameras. RF scanners will detect any network signal, and it won’t matter whether it’s a hidden network nor if you’re even connected to it.
What’s the best way to detect hidden cameras?
To be as safe as possible, it’s recommended to use every way available to detect the presence of hidden spy cameras. Different manufacturers, models and capabilities means a plethora of ways to hide cameras.
A camera without night vision capabilities will be more difficult to detect with an Infrared sweep. Spy camera recording on SD card with no network capabilities will be impossible to detect with a network scanner. Simply because these two spy camera detection methods don’t reveal a surveillance device doesn’t mean there isn’t one hidden. A magnetic fields scan can be a good way to find a hidden camera, but it can also detect any other electronic device. Depending on your phone’s magnetic fields detector sensitivity, it may not always be a reliable method either.
Hidden camera detection devices on our shop have many of the same drawbacks. None of them provides a foolproof way to detect spy devices. Depending on device, they will either scan for hidden camera lenses in a similar fashion as mobile phone apps, or they will detect RF (radio frequencies) used to transmit video data through wireless networks. RF detection devices can work well when paired with mobile phone camera detector apps for added peace of mind.
In summary, you should use every method of detection available to you. Alongside that, use your own senses as well. Some cameras will make clicking noises when they start recording (can be frequent with motion detection). Some spy cams will also create a faint noise when activating night vision recording. Don’t forget to browse all our hidden cameras to see what kind of devices you should watch out for. We have the biggest online selection of hidden camera products, and most spy cameras available for retail will be included here.
Lastly, use common sense too. Educate yourself on all the ways cameras can be hidden, and always be on the lookout for anything suspicious. With some DIY work and creativity, a hidden spy camera can be in just about any object you imagine.
See our Protection & Privacy shop page to find more tools and devices to protect yourself from surveillance, identity theft and more. You should also be concerned about surveillance in hotel rooms or vacation rentals, so don’t miss reading our article about protecting yourself while traveling.