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Airbnb Adopts Rules in Effort to Fight Discrimination by Its Hosts

Discussion in 'BBS Hangout: Debate & Discussion' started by JuanValdez, Sep 8, 2016.

  1. JuanValdez

    JuanValdez Contributing Member

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    http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/09/technology/airbnb-anti-discrimination-rules.html?_r=0

    [rquoter]Airbnb Adopts Rules in Effort to Fight Discrimination by Its Hosts
    By KATIE BENNERSEPT. 8, 2016

    SAN FRANCISCO — Airbnb introduced several changes on Thursday to combat discrimination in its short-term rental policy, after facing months of criticism that its hosts are easily able to reject potential renters based on race, religion, gender, ethnicity, age or disability.

    In a 32-page report, Airbnb, based in San Francisco, said that it would institute a new nondiscrimination policy that goes beyond what is outlined in several anti-discrimination laws and that it would ask all users to agree to a “community commitment” starting on Nov. 1. The commitment asks people to work with others who use the service, “regardless of race, religion, national origin, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age.”

    In addition, the company plans to experiment with reducing the prominence of user photos, which have helped signal race and gender. Airbnb said it would also accelerate the use of instant bookings, which lets renters book places immediately without host approval.

    The actions are a response by Airbnb to questions about discrimination that have threatened to cloud the company’s fast growth. In December, Harvard University researchers released a working paper that concluded it was harder for guests with African-American-sounding names to rent rooms through the site. Several Airbnb users shared stories on social media this year saying that they had been denied a booking because of their race.

    In May, Gregory Selden, who is African-American, filed a class-action discrimination suit against the company, saying that he had been denied a place to stay because of his race.

    Laura Murphy, a former director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington legislative office who was hired by Airbnb to compile the report, said the company’s chief executive, Brian Chesky, acknowledged that it had been too slow to address discrimination.

    “There have been too many unacceptable instances of people being discriminated against on the Airbnb platform because of who they are or what they look like,” Ms. Murphy wrote in the report.

    Airbnb has also assembled a permanent team of engineers whose purpose is to root out bias in the way the company functions. Airbnb now routes discrimination complaints to a group of trained specialists. Apart from Ms. Murphy, the company has brought in advisers including a former United States attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., and John Relman, a civil rights attorney based in Washington.

    Founded in August 2008, Airbnb has connected more than 60 million guests with short-term rentals in more than 34,000 cities and 191 countries. The privately held company is valued at $25 billion, and its expansion has depended partly on the idea that it could be a global company, providing a broad range of people with places to stay when they travel.

    “While Airbnb did not accept all of the recommendations we offered, they did thoughtfully consider them, and this report is evidence of that,” said Wade Henderson, president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which advised on the report.

    The report, he said, “is an important first step that shows an openness to considering far-reaching solutions to reducing discrimination on the Airbnb platform.”[/rquoter]

    And this is the email I got from Airbnb today:

    [rquoter]
    Dear Airbnb community,

    At the heart of our mission is the idea that people are fundamentally good and every community is a place where you can belong. We don’t say this because it sounds nice. It’s the goal that everyone at Airbnb works towards every day – because we’ve all seen how when we live together, we better understand each other.

    Discrimination is the opposite of belonging, and its existence on our platform jeopardizes this core mission. Bias and discrimination have no place on Airbnb, and we have zero tolerance for them. Unfortunately, we have been slow to address these problems, and for this I am sorry. I take responsibility for any pain or frustration this has caused members of our community. We will not only make this right; we will work to set an example that other companies can follow.

    In June, we asked Laura Murphy, the former head of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington D.C. Legislative Office, to review every aspect of the Airbnb platform, and to make sure that we’re doing everything we can to fight bias and discrimination. Thanks to Laura’s leadership, today we’re releasing a report that outlines the results of that process. You can read the full report here, but I’d like to highlight four changes that will impact the way our platform works:

    Airbnb Community Commitment
    Beginning November 1, everyone who uses Airbnb must agree to a stronger, more detailed nondiscrimination policy. We aren’t just asking you to check a box associated with a long legal document. We’re asking everyone to agree to something we’re calling the Airbnb Community Commitment, which says:
    We believe that no matter who you are, where you are from, or where you travel, you should be able to belong in the Airbnb community. By joining this community, you commit to treat all fellow members of this community, regardless of race, religion, national origin, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age, with respect, and without judgment or bias.

    Open Doors
    We’ll be implementing a new policy called Open Doors. Starting October 1st, if a Guest anywhere in the world feels like they have been discriminated against in violation of our policy – in trying to book a listing, having a booking canceled, or in any other interaction with a host – we will find that Guest a similar place to stay if one is available on Airbnb, or if not, we will find them an alternative accommodation elsewhere. This program will also apply retroactively to any Guest who reported discrimination prior to today. All of these Guests will be offered booking assistance for their next trip.

    Instant Book
    We’ll increase the availability of Instant Book, which allows our hosts to offer their homes to be booked immediately without their prior approval of a specific guest. Instant Book makes booking easier for everyone, and our goal is to have 1 million listings bookable via Instant Book by January 1st, 2017.

    Anti-bias training
    We are working with experts on bias, including Dr. Robert Livingston of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government and Dr. Peter Glick of Lawrence University, to make anti-bias training available to our community, and will be publicly acknowledging those who complete it.

    These steps are just the beginning, not the end, of our efforts to combat bias and discrimination.

    While we as a company have been slow on this issue, I am now asking you the community to help us lead the way forward. Every time you make someone else feel like they belong, that person feels accepted and safe to be themselves. While this may sound like a small act of kindness, we are a community of millions of people strong. Imagine what we can do together.

    Brian Chesky
    CEO, Co-founder[/rquoter]

    I thought this was interesting because of my fledgling attempts at using them. A year ago my wife, who is a minority, made an account to find places in the northeast and we had a lot of refusals before we settled on an instant book. Of course, we don't know why the various counter-parties declined. But this last summer when we were traveling again, I made an account with my lily-white face (and with a tie, no less) to minimize any discrimination we might face. We had little trouble with the housing but still had trouble with a p2p car rental. That's all anecdotal and totally inconclusive, but it's obvious that discrimination is easy to do in the 'sharing economy' that encourages users to post their photo. For a long time, I wouldn't put a photo on LinkedIn, because minority users might be at a disadvantage in an environment where everyone includes a photo. But, when the chips were down and I was looking for work, I went ahead and put up the photo.

    For Airbnb, the counter-measure that looks most effective to me is Instant Book. Pledges and training probably don't move the needle, but if they can give people a financial incentive to surrender their option to discriminate, that could make the service better.
     
  2. Jugdish

    Jugdish Member

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    I love AirBNB--I've used it in a dozen or so countries the last few years. I wonder what options the host has for preventing people with poor ratings from booking, or what the consequences are for guests who receive poor ratings. Can hosts filter themselves out of searches by poorly rated guests?

    I assumed Instant Book was only available for Super Hosts, who presumably use their places exclusively for AirBNB, so bookings are always available. Adding a million lesser hosts to Instant Book could pose other issues.
     
  3. JuanValdez

    JuanValdez Contributing Member

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    I doubt you could filter for poorly rated guests because you can search listings without being logged in at all. Perhaps they can stop you at the booking and say 'Sorry! This listing is reserved for guests with ratings above 4.5 stars!' or whatever.

    I agree that not giving hosts choice can cause operational problems, but we have a history in the US of problems with discrimination in housing, and resulting laws to punish that kind of behavior. The sharing economy looks like a new opportunity for discrimination to thrive, with platform operators conveniently hiding in the back saying, 'that was a private citizen's transaction, I only hosted it. You can't blame me' just like youtube, etc excused themselves from copyright violations they enabled.
     
  4. snowconeman22

    snowconeman22 Member

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    Airbnb probably knows what it is doing , but there are certainly some hosts who will stop renting out their property if they cannot control who gets to stay there . If this was couch surfing I would be completely against what Airbnb is doing , but since it is renting the situation is different . I'll admit I've never used it and don't really know a lot about it , but depriving renters an opportunity to choose the tenants seems off . Yes the possibility for discrimination exists , but so does the ability to talk to potential tenants beforehand and protect against poor guests .
     
  5. Duncan McDonuts

    Duncan McDonuts Contributing Member

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    Hosts should be able to decline who rents their house, but I remember there was a study that hosts were more likely to decline a black sounding name compared to a typical American name. That's discrimination in itself. The hosts should have final say in who they rent to, but there need to be some class protections for the renters.

    Hosts can always just be smart about it and refuse them for X-made-up-reason instead. If hosts refuse on the basis of race, then they're just stupid.
     
  6. StupidMoniker

    StupidMoniker I lost a bet
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    Host should be allowed to discriminate based on whatever factors they want, it is their private property. If some BLM leader only wants to rent to black renters, so be it. If some Klan member only wants to rent to white renters, that should be his choice. If a woman doesn't feel comfortable giving a man access to her apartment, that should be her decision. If a gay couple doesn't want to rent to straight people, they shouldn't be forced. Of all those, which one do you think the SJWs forcing this policy change really care about?
     
  7. dumbartonbass

    dumbartonbass Contributing Member
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    Or it could be that this private property becomes less clear-cut when it's listed through a publicly available service that exists to operate as a for-profit institution in the public sphere. The property is now operating as a business when you make money off it it; you're not renting it out to friends for the weekend. It's illegal to discriminate in business.

    Plus, this is a smart business decision by Air BNB. If it became statistically provable that black guests were being denied bookings at an alarming rate in spite of their ratings, it behooves Air BNB to correct the problem before a competing service steps in and addresses it first.

    This isn't charity, it's business. I thought Libertarians who railed against forcing businesses to act with a modicum of decency were in favor of businesses making their own decisions. No government agency is forcing Air BNB to do this, they're doing it of their own accord.
     
  8. Bandwagoner

    Bandwagoner Contributing Member

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    No discrimination on sex? I assumed female Airbnb hosts could turn down all the dudes they wanted.
     
  9. Dairy Ashford

    Dairy Ashford Member

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    White men like you will discriminate against every one else in practice, and create ownership and net worth dynamics that make it impossible for banks to lend to or build anyone else. Your petty vindictiveness masquerading as personal freedom becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy as generations of others are shut out of property ownership or residency and are assumed to be higher risks.
     
  10. StupidMoniker

    StupidMoniker I lost a bet
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    It should not be illegal to discriminate in business. If wishes were horses.
    It probably is. Especially so as it seems there is no enforcement behind it. Despite their statement to the contrary, this seems to be no more than "Check this box". As it stands, this seems like a good PR move and nothing more.
    I didn't claim that the government was forcing them to do it. I said SJWs were forcing them to do it. The fact that there was a class action lawsuit would seem to indicate that the SJWs involved the government though (I have no idea what the outcome of said lawsuit was, or if it has reached a resolution).
    If the white men are like me, then a majority of their customers would be minorities and the only color they would care about is green. Keep railing against that fantasy white supremacist nation that you live in though. Fight the good fight.
     
  11. Sweet Lou 4 2

    Sweet Lou 4 2 Contributing Member
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    It is against federal law to discriminate in housing whether for purchase or rent. These laws exist because they were used to deny minorities housing in the past.

    The idea that it should be ok to discriminate when it comes to your business or private property - fine, then get out of this country because that's not what America is about.
     
  12. Nook

    Nook Member

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    I won't generally rent to college students, people on government aid or recent immigrants... I have been burned by these groups repeatedly leasing property in the past. I will not rent without meeting the perspective tenant and their family. If they strike me as irresponsible or shady or disrespectful; they are not leasing my property.

    While I appreciate this companies attempt to be just and progressive; it will cause issues.
     
  13. StupidMoniker

    StupidMoniker I lost a bet
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    I am aware.
    I enjoy the freedom to espouse whatever political philosophy I choose. More than anything, that is what America is about. Should the black people have left in the 50s and 60s instead of fighting for equal rights? After all, discrimination was the law of the land. The GOVERNMENT should not discriminate on the basis of race, class, gender, sexual orientation, etc. (no matter who they are trying to benefit), but individuals should have every right to act as they choose.
     
  14. Sweet Lou 4 2

    Sweet Lou 4 2 Contributing Member
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    Then those individuals should not be allowed to use any federally funded gov't service for their business then. They should not be able to use roads that use federal highway dollars. And state if the state also has laws, and city services if the city has protections for minorities.

    You can do what you like with your business, but then your business can't leverage tax payer benefits at all. And banks and everyone should know that your business discriminates against a certain group.
     
  15. Dairy Ashford

    Dairy Ashford Member

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    Black Americans can't leave this country because they have no genealogy or connections of any kind to Africa. They fought as much against individuals' desire to discriminate against them as the government's, the overwhelming majority of basic necessities: food, shelter and clothing, are provided by private businesses run by individuals; so allowing white individuals to discriminate against everyone will ensure, particularly during recessions or shortages, that blacks and others are impoverished and neglected to the point of persecution.
     
  16. subtomic

    subtomic Contributing Member

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    Your entire argument is a straw man in this context.

    Private property or not, AirBNB has every right to dictate the conditions that its subcontractor "hosts" (for lack of a better term) must meet. It's no different than establishing cleanliness or safety standards. Furthermore, their efforts to curb certain types of discrimination was a logical response to customer complaints and a reflection of their own personal values. They want to have as many satisfied customers as possible, and discrimination based on race is a hindrance to that.

    If a host wishes to discriminate against minorities, they can remove themselves from AirBNB. There is no right to be eligible to be an AirBNB host.
     
  17. Space Ghost

    Space Ghost Contributing Member

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    Incorrect. Read up on your FHA rules/laws. Many Airbnbs are not subject to FHA regulation just as many people who are landlords. If this were true, we would not have this thread in the first place.

    I completely disagree. Laws should discourage it, but not prevent it. FHA is too broad. Quite frankly, I would rather not rent my property out to people with children.
     
  18. Cohete Rojo

    Cohete Rojo Contributing Member

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    It's not like Silicon Valley is racist or anything - they hire black Americans at like a 2-4% rate.

    Quadruple H1-B visas!
     
  19. JuanValdez

    JuanValdez Contributing Member

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    I think dumbarton touched on it -- the 'sharing economy' isn't really a sharing economy, it's a marketplace masquerading as sharing. Just like Uber pretends to be a platform for amateur part-time drivers (not cabbies), Airbnb is pretending to be a platform for person-to-person arrangements. But, it's really not. Airbnb is a market-maker, and so everyone participating in the market is engaged in commerce and the hosts are businesses, whether they engage as amateurs or not. We have existing law that isn't being applied to these businesses, but arguably should be.

    I don't think its some SJW interests forcing Airbnb to make this change. I think it's Airbnb's premonition that the government might decide that discrimination law should apply and they'd have a massive problem on their hands. By acting now, they can tell regulators and the courts that they've been dealing with the issue proactively and doing the best they can, and buy a lot of goodwill that will save them millions later. Ultimately, it's not the spectre of public reproof that motivates them (though that has worked sometimes in the past) but the potential of government enforcement.

    Is the law inappropriate for something like Airbnb? I don't think so. You could possibly see a big displacement in the hospitality industry by these micro-businesses operating on web platforms. Do we want to forego all the regulatory protections we decided were appropriate to protect hotel guests -- not just anti-discrimination, but rules on physical plant and safety, on worker rights, etc? I don't really.
     
  20. heypartner

    heypartner Contributing Member

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    No it wasn't.

    But otherwise, I do like your response. AirBNB is making a policy decision to strengthen/protect their brand...as both a business decision and ideological statement regarding their investment in the idea that the internet promotes "sharing" and they know how important their role is in protecting that...as a leader in using "sharing" models for business.
     

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