After a lawsuit
After complaints from users and a civil rights lawsuit, Airbnb is taking major steps to address discrimination.
Finding a place to stay through Airbnb should be easy for anyone. Unfortunately, this is not always the case for blacks and members of other nonwhite ethnic groups. Property owners often turn down reservations from black users, who can be identified by their photographs, or by distinctly black-sounding names.
In fact, there have been so many complaints from black travelers about racial discrimination from Airbnb hosts that Twitter users began to share their stories with the hashtag #Airbnbwhileblack. Meanwhile, a startup called Noirbnb has cropped up hoping to provide an equal opportunity alternative to Airbnb.
The San-Francisco based company has released a thirty-two page report addressing discrimination, and laying out plans to improve the problem.
To write the report, they hired Laura Murphy, former head of the American Civil Liberties Union. They also enlisted former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and civil rights attorney John Relman to write new rules for Airbnb hosts.
Steps in the right direction
Hosts will now be asked to agree to an inclusivity policy that bars them from discriminating against guests on the basis of “race, religion, national origin, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age.”
The company was sued by Gregory Selden after he was told that an Airbnb rental was not available. He returned to the site the next day to find the rental listed as available for the day he’d tried to book it.
He created fake profiles picturing a white man, and was able to book the listing.
In order to prevent this kind of racial vetting, Airbnb will now prevent hosts from re-listing rooms if they told someone it wasn’t available. Guests can also use a new feature called “Instant Book” to avoid being screened by hosts. A new Open Door policy will guarantee accomodations to those who’ve faced discrimination.
These changes will certainly help, but some users still wish Airbnb would remove user photos, which are used to identify and discriminate against racial minorities.
Murphy ultimately rejected this proposal. “I came to believe that Airbnb guests should not be asked or required to hide behind curtains of anonymity when trying to find a place to stay,” she said.
Airbnb also hopes to diversity its staff and supply chain. By 2017 they’d like 11 percent of their employees to be minorities, and they’d like to purchase at least 10 percent of their supplies from companies owned by racial minorities, women, and veterans.