Innclusive aims to solve Airbnb's discrimination problem
June 23, 2016 12:49 AM   Subscribe

Airbnb has been accused of discrimination, as Black travelers find it difficult to book reservations under the popular hosting startup. To book on Airbnb, renters must provide real names and photographs. They have taken to Twitter to share their complaints under #AirbnbWhileBlack. Two tech startups try to address this problem with services called Noirbnb and Noirebnb. They might join forces and rename their company to Innclusive, which will connect welcoming hosts with travelers of color. Do you wish this service wasn't necessary in the first place?
posted by ichomp (129 comments total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
 
Y'know, someone oughta publish some sort of guide for black travelers to help let them know where they can stay as they travel around the US, to avoid discrimination.
posted by DoctorFedora at 1:21 AM on June 23, 2016 [56 favorites]


Turns out when you disintermediate marketplaces and enable peer-to-peer, unregulated services, individual people can kinda be dicks, because individual consequences are rare.

As opposed to regulated marketplaces, where breaking the rules can get you sued, fined or jailed.
posted by Happy Dave at 2:06 AM on June 23, 2016 [67 favorites]


Right, regulated taxis in the US never refuse to pick up black passengers.
posted by jenkinsEar at 2:25 AM on June 23, 2016 [21 favorites]


Airbnb has a page explaining to hosts whether the Fair Housing Act applies to them.
Does the FHA apply to me as a host?

The FHA does not apply to all hosts. The FHA contains exemptions for owner-occupied buildings with no more than four units, single-family housing rented without the use of a broker if the private individual owner doesn’t own more than three such single-family units at one time, and housing operated by organizations and private clubs that limit occupancy to members and so long as all advertising is nondiscriminatory. There is also a bed-and-breakfast or rooming house exemption for properties "containing living quarters occupied or intended to be occupied by no more than four families living independently of each other, if the owner actually maintains and occupies one of such living quarters as his or her residence" which might apply to some hosts' listings.

...

However, even if you’re exempt from complying with the FHA, it is still illegal to advertise or make any statement that indicates a limitation or preference based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, familial status, or handicap. This prohibition against discriminatory advertising applies to single-family and owner-occupied housing that is otherwise exempt from the FHA. More information can be found at 24 C.F.R. pt. 100.

Even if the FHA does not apply to you, we expect our hosts to conduct themselves in a respectful manner and work to bridge differences and make accommodations where possible. Through their experiences on Airbnb, we hope that our guests and hosts build meaningful connections with people from all over the globe.
Translation: the FHA doesn't apply to most Airbnb housing. Don't be explicitly racist in the ad; otherwise discriminate to your heart's content. Oh, also, be nice, or something. Did you think we were going to stop you from discriminating with our own policies? Hahahaha. Nah. Go for it.
posted by naju at 2:47 AM on June 23, 2016 [43 favorites]


Right, regulated taxis in the US never refuse to pick up black passengers.

I'm not saying regulated businesses don't also break the law. But you at least have forms of recourse, flawed though they are. Taxis have badge numbers, there's an ombudsman in most places etc. Practically speaking it is very difficult to actually do that, especially if the legal system is stacked against you financially and racially, but the mechanisms do exist.

Your options with Air BnB are, what? Leave a shitty review? Use their contact form? Air BnB can claim the issue is with the host, the host can ignore it and the person being discriminated against has absolutely no recourse, because there's no regulation.
posted by Happy Dave at 3:26 AM on June 23, 2016 [43 favorites]


Did you think we were going to stop you from discriminating with our own policies? Hahahaha. Nah. Go for it.

I don't think its that simple. One of the basic assumptions of AirBnB is that the owner "chooses" who to allow to stay - in order to limit the liability of the company in the case of bad tenants. That is the owner thus must have the the power to be choose = discriminate between potential guests. The photo real name thing is the only way AirBnB works.

How can you maintain that level of trust / denial of liability and yet still have a robust anti-discrimination policy? If the general population is racist there is very little a company like AirBnB can do to rectify that.
posted by mary8nne at 3:27 AM on June 23, 2016 [9 favorites]


From the last article:

If only 10% of white customers were as angry about black customers being denied service at Airbnb as black customers are, Airbnb would have had this issue fixed already.

I think this is terribly naive.

This issue will not be "fixed" until people stop being discriminatory against PoC. You can look at most service industries (retail and food in particular), transportation, hiring, whatever - there are widespread, longstanding problems with getting equitable service if your skin is not white.

Think about it - if AirBnB was to put in a more heavy-handed policy regarding turning down customers, it's not going to encourage people to want black people in their apartment. It's going to discourage those people from renting at all. The service may be free of overt racists, but it will also not have as many properties on it for PoC to rent - i.e., no matter what, the service will not be equitable to the experience whites have on the site today.

That outcome may be a marked improvement - fewer horrible interactions for PoC - but Rohan still won't be able to rent that property. The property just won't be for rent at all (or will move to VRBO, or a whole host of other ways people rent their properties.) AirBnB will never be able to compel a user to do something with their private property - at best, they can just revoke their renting privileges.

The answer, like most things, is more complicated than AirBnB - we need better regulation against discrimination that includes "businesses that are apps" in all jurisdictions, but more importantly, it's a reminder to white people that those friends of yours that make casually racist and discriminatory remarks are probably having more of an impact on PoC than you think. Their "harmless" views behind closed doors leak out into the service industry/real life, and we need to be more vigilant in private conversation telling our friends and colleagues that you don't need to use the N-word or fly a confederate flag to make PoC's lives worse.
posted by scrittore at 3:44 AM on June 23, 2016 [27 favorites]


mary8nne - there is already a prohibition against discrimination for housing in which the FHA applies. Presumably the model does not completely break in those situations. Renters have recourse - legal recourse, and recourse with the company.

What changes, exactly, if Airbnb institutes a policy extending that prohibition against discrimination to all hosts? The site model does not break. Hosts can choose who they want to stay, but not in the racist ways that the FPP links describe. Rather than "right to refuse" and shrugging shoulders, renters have recourse with the company, the company has a policy on the books telling hosts in clear terms that it's not okay, and the company has an in-place internal procedure for reviewing and addressing incidents, and banning bad actors.

It doesn't really seem that hard from where I am standing. The entire Airbnb idea does not crumble into dust.
posted by naju at 3:54 AM on June 23, 2016 [8 favorites]


Okay, non-Airbnb-user here..... I can totally understand why they require prospective renters' real names, but why do they also require photographs?
posted by easily confused at 4:01 AM on June 23, 2016 [7 favorites]


Think about it - if AirBnB was to put in a more heavy-handed policy regarding turning down customers, it's not going to encourage people to want black people in their apartment. It's going to discourage those people from renting at all.

This is the crux of it. AirBnB cares more about making money than it does about not letting people use its service in a racist way.

That's unsurprising. Companies are effectively sociopaths. They don't care about racism unless caring benefits them, or they are forced to. That's what regulation is for.

If AirBnB was smart, they would get ahead of the push for anti-discrimination legislation that applies to their users by putting in place and enforcing their own anti-discrimination policies. But, from what I've seen, they're more likely to ride the money train as long as possible.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 4:04 AM on June 23, 2016 [9 favorites]


> Even if the FHA does not apply to you, we expect our hosts to conduct themselves in a respectful manner and work to bridge differences and make accommodations where possible.

"We can encourage you to hire a Black model to pose in your B'n'B's promotional photos but we won't require you to let him stay there."
posted by ardgedee at 4:04 AM on June 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


This is not a complicated situation. If a company's business model encourages or allows discrimination, then they're responsible for the consequences of their business model. What are companies based on the sharing economy bringing to the table aside from new business models? If those models are broken, then the companies are broken.
posted by rdr at 4:29 AM on June 23, 2016 [7 favorites]


If a company's business model encourages or allows discrimination, then they're responsible for the consequences of their business model.

If someone denies a Facebook friend request because the person sending it is a minority, is that Facebook's fault?

If a minority emails someone asking for help, and that person doesn't help them because of their minority status, is that Google/GMail's fault?

I'm with you on the "encouraging" part of your sentence, but the "allowing" argument falls apart quickly when you're talking about platforms and online markets.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 4:37 AM on June 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


If someone denies a Facebook friend request because the person sending it is a minority, is that Facebook's fault?

Commercial vs. Non-commercial transactions. Apples to Oranges. The moment you're making money off The Public, there's a Public Interest in regulating your commercial activities.
posted by mikelieman at 4:41 AM on June 23, 2016 [34 favorites]


So how could AirBnB deal with this, if it wanted to? It could remove the requirement for photos and real names, or scrub them from the information it provides owners, but there are obvious ways around that unless the company takes complete control of all communication between owners and renters (does it? I haven't actually used AirBnB but I can't imagine it would do this), like Uber effectively does.

Other than that, how does AirBnB know why a particular owner has refused a particular renter? It's not as if owners are going to be ticking a box on a form somewhere that says "I rejected that renter because I'm a racist". They can look at the problem on a statistical level, sure, but that doesn't let them identify particular cases of discrimination.

The only other option I can think of is for it to close down altogether, but that won't take the discrimination out of the housing market. Any other ideas?
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 4:58 AM on June 23, 2016


Other than that, how does AirBnB know why a particular owner has refused a particular renter?

Testers. Profiles with similar details, but one has a white avatar/sounding name, and the other is a person of color. Both asking for the same reservation, with the person of color asking first.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 5:00 AM on June 23, 2016 [14 favorites]


or like just explicit policy against it, quality control testing, and a three strikes program that lets discriminatory practices occur but infrequently such that people tend to be a little bit more open minded towards renting to PoC and, having done so, end up even moreso if and when those clients turn out to be good renters

I mean, it's not like Abnb has to solve race issues in the US. but it can be a bit more forward thinking about it such that it ends up being a force for good and not just a libertarian, self-interested enabler of shitty things
posted by runt at 5:07 AM on June 23, 2016 [24 favorites]


Commercial vs. Non-commercial transactions. Apples to Oranges. The moment you're making money off The Public, there's a Public Interest in regulating your commercial activities.

But for a platform provider, those are business transactions. Facebook and Google make money off your interactions. If you weren't connecting to people on Facebook, there'd be no business model. If you weren't interacting with people over GMail, there'd be no business model. And in both cases - as with Airbnb - they're enabling those interactions without forcing any end result.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 5:07 AM on June 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


At a certain remove, oranges and apples are the same because they are fruits.
posted by flaterik at 5:16 AM on June 23, 2016 [12 favorites]


You could hide all info except reviews and track how many times and who someone refuses to rent.
posted by drezdn at 5:16 AM on June 23, 2016


I don't use this system, so maybe this is already in place, but if not, here goes. When people review places, let them describe themselves (the reviewers) according to things like race, age, sexual orientation, and disability. Automatically generate diversity ratings, where a place gets graded based on how happy PoC, LGBT, disabled, elderly, etc., were with the accommodations. Encourage all people to be wary of places where they have low or no ratings for diversity, and to patronize places with high diversity ratings.
posted by pracowity at 5:29 AM on June 23, 2016 [8 favorites]


If someone denies a Facebook friend request because the person sending it is a minority, is that Facebook's fault?

Facebook users don't provide an essential service like accomodation to other users, or in fact any service at all. This comparison is very silly and utterly nonsensical.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:41 AM on June 23, 2016 [21 favorites]


If someone denies a Facebook friend request because the person sending it is a minority, is that Facebook's fault?

One of the major pillars of U.S. civil rights law is the Fair Housing Act. There is no Fair Friending Act.
posted by Etrigan at 5:56 AM on June 23, 2016 [19 favorites]


As Naju expertly pointed out the FHA does not apply to many AirBnB renters.

I think there is a false dichotomy between "AirBnB should fix this" and "But people are racist" both can be true. While I don't think peer-to-peer services can fix the problem, I think peer-to-peer services can do better.

Now the question is do they want to do better enough that they are willing to spend the money to work on a social and cultural betterment that might not immediately impact their bottom line?
posted by French Fry at 6:04 AM on June 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


As Naju expertly pointed out the FHA does not apply to many AirBnB renters.

Why is everyone saying "AirBnB must fix this" and not "the law must be fixed"?
posted by Leon at 6:10 AM on June 23, 2016


As Naju expertly pointed out the FHA does not apply to many AirBnB renters.

Sorry, I was being unclear. I'm asserting a moral component -- our nation (eventually) figured out that housing is important enough that we need to collectively say "You can't be a dick about not selling or renting to people just because you don't like the color of their skin", and we have added other protected classes to that since. Being online friends/contacts/followers/whatever with someone does not have that level of importance.

Ergo, even if AirBnB doesn't have a legal obligation to take positive action to ensure that its service is not used in a racist manner, it has a moral obligation that Facebook and Twitter don't (at least, when it comes to friend requests).
posted by Etrigan at 6:11 AM on June 23, 2016 [8 favorites]


It could remove the requirement for photos and real names, or scrub them from the information it provides owners, but there are obvious ways around that unless the company takes complete control of all communication between owners and renters (does it? I haven't actually used AirBnB but I can't imagine it would do this),

Actually, yes, AirBnB mediates all communications. Also payments.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:12 AM on June 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


Why is everyone saying "AirBnB must fix this" and not "the law must be fixed"?

It's both. All the references to regulation in the discussion above are syaing just that. But regulation is an imperfect tool. It would be better if AirBnB also takes steps to ensure their platform isn't misused, or used in an antisocial way.

But if they don't, well, it looks like Noir/NoireBnB will be happy to step in and grab some of their $25 billion valuation. Live by disruption, die by disruption.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 6:17 AM on June 23, 2016 [6 favorites]


Why is everyone saying "AirBnB must fix this" and not "the law must be fixed"?

Because 'disruptive' platform-based peer-to-peer internet disintermediators like AirBnB make their money by skirting around legislation, whether it's consumer legislation like the Fair Housing Act or paying wages like Uber should be.

If you legislate and regulate them, most of their competitive advantage (and a large slice of their profit) goes away and they become just another way of getting a cab/booking a hotel room.

So I'd wager most people who want such firms to regulate themselves ('Air BnB/Uber/whatever should fix this') want to live in a have-your-cake-and-eat-it world where you can get the lower prices, reduced hassle (if you're white) and flexibility of peer-to-peer marketplaces, but also reassure yourself that nobody is getting fucked over.

I say this as a hypocrite - I think there's real problems with platforms like Air BnB (although arguably less with them than others like Uber who actually make their money off the backs of people doing work and being paid piecework for it, rather than existing homeowners with an asset they want to make money from). But I still used it to book my next holiday. I have no defence for that, other than I'm trying to go for the best balance I can of having a break that's semi-affordable, giving my money to a real local person instead of an international hotel chain and staying somewhere remotely interesting. I would never be a host on Air BnB precisely because I'm uncomfortable with the contradictions inherent in their business model. But... it's nearly always the cheapest way to stay somewhere.

*has cake. Eats cake*
posted by Happy Dave at 6:20 AM on June 23, 2016 [9 favorites]


It's both. All the references to regulation in the discussion above are saying just that.

Sorry, I must be mis-reading. I'll go back and look again.
posted by Leon at 6:21 AM on June 23, 2016


Sure, stop at trying to treat the symptoms and not the disease.... over and over.
posted by asra at 6:30 AM on June 23, 2016


Your options with Air BnB are, what? Leave a shitty review?

If they would leave it up, I would hope that a review of "Owner rejected me; I believe because I am black" would hurt the owner. If they would leave it up, but that would hurt their business so I expect they wouldn't.

One of the basic assumptions of AirBnB is that the owner "chooses" who to allow to stay - in order to limit the liability of the company in the case of bad tenants.

Why would public policy care about that? Let the company have more liability, then. I mean, the very worst that could happen is that fewer people would rent out their homes or operate illegal hotels. *shrug* Okay.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 6:43 AM on June 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


Why would public policy care about that? Let the company have more liability, then.

Wait - you are suggesting a legislation change to address the issue. Whereas my comment was based on the assumption that we are expecting AirBnB to police themselves.

I would say yes sure -- If its a matter of Public policy go ahead and include AirBnB in the FHA.

My point was that expecting AirBnB to change policy voluntarily when the new policy is likely against their own business interests and profitibility is just naive.
posted by mary8nne at 7:00 AM on June 23, 2016


It's not naive if they get enough pressure put on them. In our current legislative climate, shaming corporations (especially these new-economy corporations who live and die by their online reputations) into changing their policies is likely more realistic than expecting our hapless Congress to do anything. If the volume of the opprobrium on social media gets high enough, it will affect their bottom line.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 7:03 AM on June 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


My point was that expecting AirBnB to change policy voluntarily when the new policy is likely against their own business interests and profitibility is just naive.

Sorry. Sure, I agree with that. Doubly so when so much of the enterprise is a regulation-avoidance scam like AirBNB; there's little or no reason to expect any positive outcome from a firm like that.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:08 AM on June 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


Right, regulated taxis in the US never refuse to pick up black passengers.

Others have pointed out that Uber (for all its flaws) has gone a long way toward ameliorating the problem of transportation discrimination, while AirBnB revived housing discrimination. Two similar companies, but opposite effects.
posted by Pater Aletheias at 7:19 AM on June 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


Interesting how LinkedIn has so far avoided this problem AirBnb is facing by making photos optional. The effect is probably much the same though for job seekers who appear to be of a racial minority or over a certain age. And for many hopeful users of LinkedIn, the potential discrimination consequences could be much more dire than not being able to rent a vacation home.
posted by fuse theorem at 8:03 AM on June 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


Obvious a lot of commenters here have no idea how Airbnb works (you can't leave a review unless you stay somewhere guys it's not Yelp). I agree there are some obvious things they could do - i.e. Remove photos - but not sure how you would fix this site wide from a policy perspective. I stay in and rent my own place on Airbnb when I travel. It's a platform for letting strangers sleep in your bed. No one would rent on it if you couldn't deny anyone for any reason. I probably deny a dozen requests for every one that I accept for renting my place, because it's my home, and I'm picky. I'm not running a public hotel, I'm trying to vet strangers from the Internet before handing over keys. I don't want teenagers who are going to party or other weirdos. I've had all kinds of people stay in my apartment but the appeal is that I get to choose.
posted by bradbane at 8:07 AM on June 23, 2016 [12 favorites]


Some commenters have proposed eliminating the FHA exemption for small, owner-occupied properties. But, if I understand correctly, it might not be constitutionally possible to prohibit discrimination inside of people's homes at all. Specifically, in Fair Housing Council v. Roommates.com, the majority wrote:

It would be difficult, though not impossible, to divide a single-family house or apartment into separate “dwellings” for purposes of the statute. Is a “dwelling” a bedroom plus a right to access common areas? What if roommates share a bedroom? Could a “dwelling” be a bottom bunk and half an armoire? It makes practical sense to interpret “dwelling” as an independent living unit and stop the FHA at the front door.

...

Government regulation of an individual’s ability to pick a roommate thus intrudes into the home, which “is entitled to special protection as the center of the private lives of our people.” Minnesota v. Carter, 525 U.S. 83, 99 (1998) (Kennedy, J., concurring). “Liberty protects the person from unwarranted government intrusions into a dwelling or other private places. In our tradition the State is not omnipresent in the home.” Lawrence v. Texas, 539 U.S. 558, 562 (2003). Holding that the FHA applies inside a home or apartment would allow the government to restrict our ability to choose roommates compatible with our lifestyles. This would be a serious invasion of privacy, autonomy and security.

This decision was specifically about the choice of roommates, but it would seem to apply to short-term tenants. Or no?
posted by andrewpcone at 8:19 AM on June 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


Why is everyone saying "AirBnB must fix this" and not "the law must be fixed"?

I'd advocate for the law being fixed as well, but we live in strange times. AirBnB can effectively be crippled if even a small percentage of their users publicly refuse to use the service. We don't have to get the support of racists to make a company change its policies; we can apply public pressure to do so.

On the other hand, if we want reform to happen to major federal civil rights legislation, we do need the support of racists, and the last fifty years have shown us that they are immune to public shaming.

And now I've just ruined my own morning by pointing this out.
posted by Mayor West at 8:21 AM on June 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


No one would [provide this service] if you couldn't deny anyone for any reason.

Oh, look, the exact same argument used against every piece of civil rights legislation ever. Whatever shall we do without our unregulated short-term rentals, wedding-cake bakeries, lunch counters...
posted by Etrigan at 8:31 AM on June 23, 2016 [13 favorites]


No one would rent on it if you couldn't deny anyone for any reason.

there's a difference between denying someone because you feel like they are going to mess up your home (eg a bunch of frat guys) and having a statistically significant record of persistently denying PoC renters by holding them to a different standard than white renters

the small amount of emotional labor you'd have to do to keep from perpetuating a racist social structure is to imagine the requester as white or whatever race you personally identify as and then proceed from that non-racist, slightly more equitable ground

Abnb can and should encourage that kind of behavior because it's not hard, it does good in the world, it fosters pro-social behavior, and because it's the ethical thing to do. I can't personally imagine how that would completely screw their business model but maybe you have more economic imagination than I do
posted by runt at 8:42 AM on June 23, 2016 [6 favorites]


I agree with you runt, what policy mechanism could be used to make it better? Removing photos and...?

I mean, the very worst that could happen is that fewer people would rent out their homes or operate illegal hotels. *shrug* Okay.

Seems like the only people who would host on Airbnb would be illegal hotels if the solution is "force people to take in any random stranger from the Internet". I care about my home and neighbors too much to sign up for that.

I mean I deny anyone automatically who doesn't explain why they're in town in their first message. Airbnb hates this but I don't care about their business model or some randos vacation accommodations.

It's unfortunate that Airbnb, which I think is a great idea, is in the process of being ruined by a terrible company and the general shittiness of people.
posted by bradbane at 8:43 AM on June 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


like, nobody is saying Abnb should just let anybody rent whatever at any time. that would be a dumb position to argue

all anybody is saying is that Abnb should outwardly claim to be against discrimination and have a small reviews process that occasionally looks at the worst offenders who tend to be regularly biased against PoC

for a company valued at the billion dollar level, having basic compliance standards for not being racist douche bags seems like a pretty small ask
posted by runt at 8:45 AM on June 23, 2016 [10 favorites]


This decision was specifically about the choice of roommates, but it would seem to apply to short-term tenants. Or no?

If you're taking money in exchange for a service, you can comply with the law or shut down your business.

Airbnb is operating in Europe, and I'm pretty sure (hell, I hope) we don't have exemptions for tiny racist businesses.
posted by Leon at 8:46 AM on June 23, 2016 [5 favorites]



Seems like the only people who would host on Airbnb would be illegal hotels if the solution is "force people to take in any random stranger from the Internet". I care about my home and neighbors too much to sign up for that.


Literally no-one is in any way suggesting that people should be "forced" to take in "any random stranger from the Internet." AirBnb is a voluntary service. But to use them you have to sign a contract. I think it's reasonable for the contract to say, "Don't discriminate against someone for one of the reasons that the FHA deems unacceptable." If someone feels the need to discriminate for one of those specific reasons then maybe AirBnB ought not to want that person as a partner.
posted by xigxag at 8:50 AM on June 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


So how could AirBnB deal with this, if it wanted to?

My suggestion would be to remove the requirement for user pictures prior to rental but have a confirmed picture available to the host once they've accepted the reservation. I think the picture requirement is necessary for security reasons and maybe this would help?

They could still cancel the reservations but it should be easier to weed out the hosts who suddenly cancel reservations after seeing the face of their guest.
posted by bitdamaged at 8:56 AM on June 23, 2016 [6 favorites]


the small amount of emotional labor you'd have to do to keep from perpetuating a racist social structure is to imagine the requester as white

Maybe AirBnB should just apply an OJ Simpson on the cover of Wired filter to all the photos.
posted by sparklemotion at 8:58 AM on June 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


Seems like the only people who would host on Airbnb would be illegal hotels if the solution is "force people to take in any random stranger from the Internet". I care about my home and neighbors too much to sign up for that.

Okay. So what? I mean, the illegal hotels should be shut down in any case. If nobody is willing to rent on AirBNB... okay.

like, nobody is saying Abnb should just let anybody rent whatever at any time. that would be a dumb position to argue

I think it's entirely reasonable to say that if you're publicly put your place up for rent for some time frame on a nationwide forum, that you should have to take the first person who puts cash on the barrelhead. And if you're not willing to serve the next person in line, irrespective of race, color, religion, age, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, family status, national origin, and so on, you shouldn't be in business.

Maybe that would crash the market for this kind of small scale rental. So?
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:58 AM on June 23, 2016 [9 favorites]


Oh, look, the exact same argument used against every piece of civil rights legislation ever. Whatever shall we do without our unregulated short-term rentals, wedding-cake bakeries, lunch counters...

Sleeping in my bed isn't a public service. I agree with everything you guys are saying I am genuinely curious how you would solve this from a platform perspective. Statistical analysis? What enforcement mechanism would get the desired result? How would putting "follow the FHA" in a contract actually change behavior on the site? Obviously this applies to other "sharing" companies but getting a ride from uber is a little different than handing keys over to your personal home. How can this be solved in a broader context, because it doesn't seem like these services are going away?

I think they should remove photos and kick off the people who have an obvious statistical bias personally.

Wouldn't it be wonderful if all these talented UX designers were focused on problems like this instead of getting us to click banner ads?
posted by bradbane at 9:02 AM on June 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


bradbane: No one would rent on it if you couldn't deny anyone for any reason.

Only partly true. The hosts for whom Airbnb ostensibly exists—people who just happen to have an extra room that they'd like to make a bit of side money off of—might stop using it. However, the hosts who actually make Airbnb most of its money—landlords/hoteliers who make their living by using Airbnb as a platform for setting up short-term rentals while skirting existing regulations—would probably continue using it despite additional regulations.

The problem with Airbnb is that it pretends it's designed for the first class of users, while quietly turning a blind eye to the fact that the second class of users is creating significant societal problems by turning residential neighborhoods into unregulated hotels and reviving housing discrimination. The first class of users—people who are letting the occasional vacationer stay in their spare room—probably should be able to deny prospective renters for any reason. After all, they're letting those renters into their homes.

The second class of users—people who are running a bunch of Airbnbs as a full-time business—should be moved into a different, more regulated service (VRBO? I don't know much about VRBO.) where they can still make money and provide travelers with a cost-effective alternative to traditional hotels and bed-and-breakfasts, while also being required to meet more of the regulatory standards required of traditional hoteliers and landlords. From what I know that's a pretty lucrative market right now and one that a lot of people seem to enjoy being part of, and I bet it could withstand some additional regulation and professionalization without totally collapsing.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:11 AM on June 23, 2016 [14 favorites]


I mean, I know a couple people who provide for themselves and their families that way, and they seem pretty aware that regulation is coming. If they can continue their business while working within those regulations, they'll definitely do that.

It'll take a lot of uncertainty out of the market too, since right now people in most areas don't know what the landscape is going to look like—it's been a municipal-level patchwork so far, and individual cities seem to want to clamp down pretty tightly. Airbnb Inc. should really have realized by now that they have a lot to lose by letting things continue this way, and that in the long run their winning move is to self-regulate in a way that allows their core business model to continue. Otherwise, it's eventually going to get stomped to death by a combination of restrictive local regulations and the uncertainty that this environment creates for their key money-makers.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:18 AM on June 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


> Sleeping in my bed isn't a public service

You're charging people money for the privilege, not offering it out of the goodness of your heart to a down-on-their luck friend. You may not exactly be running a hotel the way "hotel" is currently defined by law, but you are providing some sort of service, and you are doing so willingly.
posted by rtha at 9:18 AM on June 23, 2016 [16 favorites]


Accepting money doesn't make it a public service, under US law at least.
posted by bradbane at 9:26 AM on June 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


Sleeping in my bed isn't a public service.

Nor is baking a cake or feeding people lunch. Yet they're all regulated in some form or another when you take money for them.
posted by Etrigan at 9:34 AM on June 23, 2016 [9 favorites]


The first class of users—people who are letting the occasional vacationer stay in their spare room—probably should be able to deny prospective renters for any reason. After all, they're letting those renters into their homes...

The second class of users—people who are running a bunch of Airbnbs as a full-time business—should be moved into a different, more regulated service (VRBO? I don't know much about VRBO.)...


Does the data show that it is the second class of users (AirBnBs as full time business) that are being discriminatory? My hunch tells me it's not -- from a business point of view, if you don't live in the place, and the user is paying in advance and paying your cleaning fee, who cares what they look like if so long as the payment goes through?

So, from a regulation point of view, treating the full-timers differently wouldn't necessarily solve the racism problem.
posted by sparklemotion at 9:38 AM on June 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


The only time I have ever used AirBnB, I was traveling with a friend who is Black and we were asked to leave because the host was "uncomfortable." I'm white and the host talked to me about this without admitting she was racist but it was obvious. That experience made me boycott AirBnB forever.
posted by Beethoven's Sith at 9:39 AM on June 23, 2016 [24 favorites]


If you set up an Airbnb account today it will require you to use ""Instant Book." This means that, as a host, you must allow all booking requests except, I think, three a year. Airbnb is handling this racial driscrimination problem by making it much Moore difficult for new hosts to discriminate. They didn't tell anybody about this, they just quietly changed the setup so only instant book is now available.
posted by djinn dandy at 9:45 AM on June 23, 2016 [8 favorites]


That's interesting, djinn dandy. Come to think of it, a friend of mine who runs a couple of Airbnbs in New Orleans was recently complaining that her account had been switched to Instant Book without her being asked first or notified after, and that the first she knew anything had happened was when a couple of people made reservations over Mardi Gras. (Mardi Gras was supposed to be blacked out, because obviously it's a peak time so she was planning to raise rates. The people who made the surprise reservations got them at normal rates, which was annoying to her.) So it might not just be new accounts that are affected by this. If they're doing this as an anti-discrimination measure, they're doing it in a weird way that's pissing off their users.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 9:51 AM on June 23, 2016 [2 favorites]



I think they should remove photos and kick off the people who have an obvious statistical bias personally.

You pretty much answered your own question. At this point nobody knows for sure what would yield the best results but the point is that AirBnB should be against discrimination, not winkingly enabling it. Although, as things stand now, I prefer the photo policy stay in place, or maybe change to bitdamaged show after signing idea. Basically, I don't want to stay in some racist's house because they feel they can't back out of the contract, and then I'll have to be checking for shit smears on the guest towels or some other nonsense. Or I get all the way to Anchorage and the host is waiting at the door to cancel the booking, claiming that a last minute water leak precluded them from renting out the place. What I want is for the bigot to have to bear the consequences of their convictions (i.e. getting banned from BnB) and not the victim. I think the policy update mentioned by djinn dandy is a good first step. Hopefully it will discourage bigots from becoming hosts in the first place.
posted by xigxag at 9:57 AM on June 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


It seems like many people's reaction comes down to "I know it's awful, but I don't want to give up my part of it, it's not awful for me."
posted by bongo_x at 10:02 AM on June 23, 2016 [12 favorites]


Ah yes, another case where the whole "new economy" drivel falls away, and we see the service for what it really is: a way to do something that we already have legal protections for in a way that skirts the law (and, surprise surprise, the legal protections.)

Ubers are cabs.

AirBnBs are rentals.

They're not "ride sharing" or "house sharing" any more than Comcast service is "TV sharing".

Turns out when you skirt the law and bypass the legal protections, some people take advantage of that. Wow. Who could've guessed.
posted by -1 at 10:07 AM on June 23, 2016 [15 favorites]


If they're doing this as an anti-discrimination measure, they're doing it in a weird way that's pissing off their users.

Any effective anti-discrimination measure is likely to piss off some users. Rolling out new features is hard, and if the host in NOLA lost some profit because of a feature that may greatly limit discrimination, that seems like a small price to pay. I'm sure next time she'll be careful to raise prices

The most straightforward way to stop people discriminating is to remove their ability to discriminate. This is far easier than trying to ferret out where bias exists based on statistical analysis or relying on guest complaints.

While I personally like the ability to decide who I let into my house as an Airbnb guest based on my instincts, it is hard for me to imagine a system that both preserves that freedom and prevents discrimination. Bigotry hides well in instinct, often unconsciously.
posted by andrewpcone at 10:08 AM on June 23, 2016 [5 favorites]


Ehh, she was waiting to see what the market was going to do next year before setting her prices. Airbnb even allows you to set them algorithmically based on what other bookings are going for, I believe. But that's really neither here nor there. Point is, setting people to Instant Book as a way to reduce discrimination might be a good idea (it sounds like a good idea) but why aren't they proudly announcing it as part of a new anti-discrimination initiative, or at least just telling people "Hey, we're setting everybody to Instant Book because reasons. You can switch it back, but in the future we may penalize you for not using that setting or even make it mandatory. Ta!"

Of course, all of this presupposes that the reason she got switched was connected to some kind of notional anti-discrimination strategy, which is pretty speculative stuff. It was more of an interesting thought I had than anything else.
posted by Anticipation Of A New Lover's Arrival, The at 10:15 AM on June 23, 2016


Point is, setting people to Instant Book as a way to reduce discrimination might be a good idea (it sounds like a good idea) but why aren't they proudly announcing it as part of a new anti-discrimination initiative

Same reason people are actively against changing the name of the Washington NFL team -- if you say that the new system is less racist, then you're admitting that the old system was more racist, and therefore everyone who used the old system is a racist.
posted by Etrigan at 10:19 AM on June 23, 2016 [9 favorites]


why aren't they proudly announcing it as part of a new anti-discrimination initiative

Why should they? I hate it when corporations seek applause for simply being ethical. If there is a problem, they should be trying to fix it. If they do, hopefully discrimination complaints will subside, and formerly discriminated-against people will eventually begin trusting it. That is much cleaner than saying "Look! We fixed it!" when neither they nor anyone else knows for sure that this particular fix will be effective. If Airbnb wants to gain people's trust, I'd rather they do that by actually being less discriminatory and letting the results speak for themselves, not by cooing how much they care about social justice.

As to whether the intent is to solve discrimination (rather than just increase successful bookings), I have a feeling that was something they thought about, but probably not the main motivator. Fine. I don't personally see much point in Airbnb saying, "we're so sorry we have done a bad job preventing discrimination in the past." Just fix it.
posted by andrewpcone at 10:26 AM on June 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


If they do, hopefully discrimination complaints will subside, and formerly discriminated-against people will eventually begin trusting it.

I don't know about you, but when I get shitty racist service from a business, I don't check back in every now and then to see whether they're being shitty racist at that particular moment. I just stop patronizing that business. If they want my business back, then they damn well better say "Hey, we fired that asshole and took these other steps to prevent shit like that from happening again. We're sorry." That's different from "seeking applause".
posted by Etrigan at 10:32 AM on June 23, 2016 [10 favorites]


If you regard AirBnB (or hosts) as a hotelier, then the issues around disabilities discrimination and the ADA are even more structurally problematic than social/racial issues. In housing there are very clear-cut rules for multi-family developments that allocate a proportion of units that must be accessible in very specific ways. In hotels there are likewise requirements for a proportion of rooms that must accommodate differing requirements, from space, to height of fixtures to deafness or blindness. In housing the rules go away for single family or duplex stand-alone projects. In hotels the requirements are a minimum of one unit in the hotel.

How do you handle this for an AirBnB host? The current approach is to simply conclude it doesn't apply. It is not pragmatic to think that all people's homes would be modified to full ADA clearances and compliance. Not only is it expensive, but the sizes and proportions of spaces and the fixtures and finishes are often not what people select for their home given other options.

AirBnB does exist in part as a regulation skirting enterprise. But it also is eliminating a huge area of waste - heated, conditioned, livable space being unused for shelter at any certain time because the owner is not present. From a social and environmental standpoint I would rather see existing bedrooms occupied by people rather than new bedrooms built and increasing resource consumption, sprawl, etc.

None of this is any excuse for racist or discriminatory behavior, whether conscious or unconscious, selective or indirect. It is only a comment that the scale and scope of the problem is large, and becomes even more pernicious when hosting the full public requires significant physical changes and poses the alternate challenge of not wanting to throw out the baby with the bathwater. I don't have answers, only difficult questions and an observation that there is a significant portion of the population invisible in this discussion so far.
posted by meinvt at 10:41 AM on June 23, 2016 [9 favorites]


What about, if you rent your place more than four times a year, or for more than 45 calendar days in a year (spitballing numbers), you're subject to FHA and to audit by AirBnB for compliance with FHA? That would allow people doing very small personal rentals to continue to be very picky, the way people are allowed to be picky about roommates or tenants in duplexes, but for people who are using it as a small business, they become subject to business regulations that mandate nondiscrimination.

I mean you're gonna pick off the worst offenders and it's gonna be relatively random, but even relatively random enforcement of just the worst offenders decreases other owners' willingness to be discriminatory because they know they might get caught.

AirBnB's total unwillingness to police their platform and its willingness to let large-scale illegal hoteliers run illegal hotels is going to ruin it for small homeowners doing occasional rentals, though. Cities are going to start enforcing existing hotel regulations and shutting down a lot of short-term rentals that could have otherwise flown under the radar, and neighborhoods are going to start using zoning restrictions or municipal code violations, with very high fines, to prevent short-term commercial rentals of residential properties. AirBnB probably doesn't care about discrimination because they've shown no sign they care about building a sustainable business; just getting cash now and, I assume, cashing out when the space starts to get regulated.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 10:46 AM on June 23, 2016 [10 favorites]


So, this is actually a very personal matter to me: If I, black-looking, try to rent a place on AirBnb, I get a lot of noes. If my husband, white, does it, we nearly always get a yes. It is annoying and I have to be honest, people who are like "watcha gonna do? society mannnn" are basically telling me "I don't care about your current life but maybe your grandkids will be ok" which, well you can imagine how it makes me feel.

Anyways, other than the hiding of pics before booking / testers / statistical checks, I would also like to see the ability to have shared reviews across profiles or a couple/family profile. Having the ability to link the good reviews my husband and I get (because we aren't animals) to my profile would at least let me accumulate the credit I deserve without having to apply to a million listings to get a few to take me. This is a small thing that wouldn't work for everyone, but would make a difference for some.
posted by dame at 10:54 AM on June 23, 2016 [43 favorites]


easily confused: "I can totally understand why they require prospective renters' real names, but why do they also require photographs?"

One reason is it is a curb on low level brokering.
posted by Mitheral at 10:54 AM on June 23, 2016


Nor is baking a cake or feeding people lunch.

No, they are. Public service has a specific legal meaning. Not all business transactions are public services. If you have a restaurant you must serve anyone who walks through the door. If you serve lunch as a private catering service you can discriminate clients however you please.


If they're doing this as an anti-discrimination measure, they're doing it in a weird way that's pissing off their users.


It's a service issue. They don't like people like me who aren't running it as a mini hotel, it frustrates guests, understandably.

Airbnb wants to have their cake and eat it too. They want to play up the "people just renting a spare room" angle when convenient but really they want you to run it like a hotel. And it's this contradiction they'd rather play both sides of than taking simple steps to make their platform more inclusive.
posted by bradbane at 10:56 AM on June 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


Totally agree on AirBnB's modus operandi, Eyebrows McGee. I'd also note how hard it is to actually regulate such a diffuse thing as the specific rental units. For example, it is already illegal in New York State to do rental housing under 30 days without the resident present. But, how do you possible equitably enforce that in today's climate? So instead there is a proposed law to make the advertising illegal.

Our regulatory structures are lost trying to figure out what to do with this - but I think that going straight at the enabler (AirBnB) as the leverage to managing the bad actors is the right approach.
posted by meinvt at 10:57 AM on June 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


If you serve lunch as a private catering service you can discriminate clients however you please.

I'm pretty sure that an explicit declaration of "I don't cook for blacks" would not fly.
posted by Etrigan at 11:01 AM on June 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


meinvt: " For example, it is already illegal in New York State to do rental housing under 30 days without the resident present. But, how do you possible equitably enforce that in today's climate?"

Sting operations. Rent a bunch of places for a weekend and see if the host is there when you show up. Develop a fine structure that makes it pay for itself. It's not like these guys are selling speakers out of a trunk; rentals aren't going to be able to obfuscate their location.
posted by Mitheral at 11:01 AM on June 23, 2016 [6 favorites]


Oh hey also, tiny note. Saying racist things in the implied "voice of a racist" can still be super hurtful and we can discuss racism without saying terrible things. I would be very thankful if people would maybe keep that in mind.
posted by dame at 11:09 AM on June 23, 2016 [21 favorites]


Etrigan, of course. Just pointing out there are different legal and practical standards between businesses that have doors open to the public and those that do not.
posted by bradbane at 11:12 AM on June 23, 2016


Just pointing out there are different legal and practical standards between businesses that have doors open to the public and those that do not.

Do you realize how much that sounds like "...so I guess we can't do anything oh well too bad that some people get turned away from AirBnBs anyway how 'bout that local sports team"?

And even putting that aside, the different legal standards aren't immutable -- they exist in this particular case because the legislative and regulatory regimes haven't caught up to AirBnB (or the "sharing/gig economy" generally (thanks in no small part to AirBnB and Uber and suchlike spending a lot of money on lobbyists)).
posted by Etrigan at 11:40 AM on June 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


As a thought experiment (it would be terrible public policy and nobody should undertake it ever), it's interesting to consider what would happen if we allowed small businesses to opt out of anti-discrimination laws (meant to benefit citizen-consumers) BUT they also had to opt out of other government regulations that benefit THEM, like losing the ability to limit liability, or the right to access the courts for breach of contract. "Okay, you don't have to bake gay wedding cakes/rent to black guests, but if somebody refuses to pay you, OH WELL OUT OF LUCK AREN'T YOU!"

Suddenly government regulation doesn't look so onerous.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 11:44 AM on June 23, 2016 [22 favorites]


Do you realize how much that sounds like "...so I guess we can't do anything oh well too bad that some people get turned away from AirBnBs anyway how 'bout that local sports team"?

Bradbane has proposed potential solutions in this thread, so it's not like he's throwing up his hands. It seems like the disagreement here is which solutions are best/workable, not "should anything change ever."

Suddenly government regulation doesn't look so onerous.

This is why I love reading stories about libertarians who get scammed by other libertarians. Galt's Gulch was particularly delicious (especially with the Bitcoin cherry on top).
posted by sparklemotion at 11:49 AM on June 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


I think we can weed out bad actors and am definitely not arguing for an opt out of discrimination laws. The discussion here is about why the FHA/ADA do not currently apply to something like an individual Airbnb host, which has nothing to do with the sharing economy or Airbnb. Private businesses have never been held to the same legal regimes as ones that are "public" in the sense that anyone can walk in the door off the street.

I certainly understand people who think Airbnb shouldn't exist, even if I disagree, but seems obvious to me that whatever solutions can make these platforms more inclusive the answer isn't "treat them exactly like hotels". Because they aren't.
posted by bradbane at 11:53 AM on June 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


The discussion here is about why the FHA/ADA do not currently apply to something like an individual Airbnb host, which has nothing to do with the sharing economy or Airbnb.

No, the discussion here is whether "No one would rent on it if you couldn't deny anyone for any reason." is sufficient justification to allow people to discriminate based on (in this instance) race or ethnicity, which falls under the umbrella of "anyone for any reason". Your not wanting to rent to "other weirdos" is legally identical to someone else not wanting to rent to "those people". You say, "The appeal is that I get to choose." And the problem is that some people choose for shitty reasons.

You want to perform the exact function of a hotel -- providing strangers a room for a short period of time in exchange for money -- in all but name, while avoiding all of the legal requirements for being a hotel that have come about because of centuries of legislators and regulators deciding "You have to do this and you're not allowed to do that if you want to take money from strangers in return for providing them a room for a short period of time."
posted by Etrigan at 12:41 PM on June 23, 2016 [9 favorites]


Airbnb is a wonderful service if you're a non-handicapped white person planning a vacation about three weeks in advance.

I spent weeks last year trying to find a place for my wheelchair bound mother to stay near my sister. Airbnb has a check box for "this place is accessible", which neatly filters the options down by 98%, and then you look through the remainder and you have brain-dead hosts explaining that it's like super accessible if you can just fly up the 12 steps at the front door, or oh oops like it's just that a wheelchair wouldn't actually fit down the corridor to the bathroom or in the bathroom.
On another trip, was trying to plan ahead for a trip to Paris at peak season. The first three or four hosts that I tried to book refused and said "oh sorry I'm not taking bookings that far out" (and yes,their calendars were open).
And yet another time I needed last minute accommodation after a change of plans - nobody responded to me, I couldn't make multiple booking attempts without risking paying for all of them, and I ended up spending hundreds of dollars on a hotel and I would never try and use it with less than a week notice again.

And then there are the social systems it completely excludes: homeless shelters and emergency programs can book hotel rooms for people when there's no room anywhere. They can't book an airbnb without explicitly breaking the terms of services (you may not book on someone else's behalf).

Fundamentally, airbnb is a way of taking accommodation off the long term rental market and making it selectively available to only the most "attractive" section of the short term market.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 12:42 PM on June 23, 2016 [17 favorites]


Does the data show that it is the second class of users (AirBnBs as full time business) that are being discriminatory? My hunch tells me it's not -- from a business point of view, if you don't live in the place, and the user is paying in advance and paying your cleaning fee, who cares what they look like if so long as the payment goes through?


If financial incentives were enough to actually overcome the bigotry of business managers we wouldn't need something like the FHA in the first place.
posted by pocketfullofrye at 12:53 PM on June 23, 2016 [9 favorites]


But if they don't, well, it looks like Noir/NoireBnB will be happy to step in and grab some of their $25 billion valuation. Live by disruption, die by disruption.

Maybe so, but it sure is shitty that there's still a need for an entirely parallel infrastructure. It's the Green Book again.
posted by kenko at 1:05 PM on June 23, 2016 [6 favorites]


It's only de facto segregation, after all.
posted by Etrigan at 1:07 PM on June 23, 2016


Etrigan: "You want to perform the exact function of a hotel -- providing strangers a room for a short period of time in exchange for money -- in all but name, while avoiding all of the legal requirements for being a hotel that have come about because of centuries of legislators and regulators deciding "You have to do this and you're not allowed to do that if you want to take money from strangers in return for providing them a room for a short period of time.""

AirBnB is going to have a Winecoff Hotel fire or DuPont Plaza equivalent where dozens die because of totally inadequate fire protection and evacuation and then maybe people will get serious about re-regulating this industry.
posted by Mitheral at 1:19 PM on June 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


If you think a hotel and renting a room in your personal home are categorically the same I guess we'll have to agree to disagree. Which is not to say I think Airbnb shouldn't be regulated. It should be.

No, the discussion here is whether "No one would rent on it if you couldn't deny anyone for any reason." is sufficient justification to allow people to discriminate

So is there a solution that lets hosts screen people staying in their personal homes but also eliminates bad actors and racists? Or should Airbnb and other "platforms" like it simply not exist? To me this just seems like a design problem, not an existential one.

I own two businesses, neither are open to the public. I can refuse service to anyone for any reason - I'm not forced to take anyone's project on. This is how every business in the world operates if they don't have a location open to the public. is renting on Airbnb different? How?
posted by bradbane at 1:20 PM on June 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


This is how every business in the world operates if they don't have a location open to the public.

Yeah.... are you certain that's the case where I'm from, or are you making stuff up?
posted by Leon at 1:22 PM on June 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


If financial incentives were enough to actually overcome the bigotry of business managers we wouldn't need something like the FHA in the first place.

There's a difference between the types of organizations that required the FHA to be enacted in the first place (the big two being banks and landlords, amongst others), that were making racist assumptions about people's ability to pay, or "suitability" for the neighbourhood, or the influx of a "bad" element, and AirBnB Hoteliers, who, by definition, don't really care about the neighbourhood and are getting the same money upfront from whomever regardless.

I don't have the data to back this up (or refute it) but my hunch is that the people who are being racist on AirBnB are people who consider the AirBnB space "theirs" (be it their home or vacation home), and don't like the idea of PoC being in their space (either consciously or unconsciously).

If you're managing an AirBnB that you never use for yourself, even if you were a member of the KKK, why would you care who stayed there? (I understand the danger of assuming rational thought on the part of racists).

Regardless, the point is that if you allow small-time renters to deny anyone for any reason, racists are going to continue deny bookings from PoC. So regulating the "professionals" doesn't really fix the problem for PoCs (or other minority groups).
posted by sparklemotion at 1:24 PM on June 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


Yeah.... are you certain that's the case where I'm from, or are you making stuff up

What business, that's not open to the public, is obligated to take your money? I can't think of any kind of work where that is the case.

Can you explicitly advertise that you don't work with people from a protected class? Hell no. But if you call up an electrician (or insert service provider of your choice) and they don't want to work with you for whatever reason, there's nothing that says they have to take your job.
posted by bradbane at 1:32 PM on June 23, 2016


"I own two businesses, neither are open to the public. I can refuse service to anyone for any reason"

If you live in the US this is flatly untrue and has been repeatedly litigated, that you cannot use the cover of "I can refuse anyone for any reason" to have the reason secretly be discriminatory, even if you are a contract business and not a "public accommodation." You can be sued for this, and you can lose, and if you are operating two businesses under the assumption that you can discriminate as long as you keep the reason secret or don't have a storefront, you should talk to your lawyer stat.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 1:33 PM on June 23, 2016 [12 favorites]


I wouldn't doubt for a nanosecond that people of color have it the worst. There are so many assholes in this world and the racist ones are louder and more awful than ever these days.

But I was a bit surprised when immigrant friends of ours had a similar experience. We're friends with a Hungarian-Serbian family whose closing on their new house was pushed back to three weeks after their rental ended. Over and over, they booked Airbnb lodging for their family for this span, choosing only from places with stated availability, cheerfully providing a credit card for pull payment up front. And over and over, they got variations on the same email shortly thereafter. "Um, gee, we looked things over and there was a mixup. The place actually isn't available! Sorry!" These messages seemed to come right after initial contact with our obvious foreign-named friend sent her admittedly kinda-ESL messages to the host.

Finally, we just had them stay with us, which was challenging. It turns out having a family of six join your family of four in a townhome with one bathroom for a few weeks is rough even when the family in question are all awesome people. But they're friends, so what else could we do... They'd have done it for us. And there was nowhere else for them to go.

I never really thought of "being allowed to buy and pay for things advertised as for sale/rent" as privilege, but criminy, it really is, isn't it?
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:35 PM on June 23, 2016 [8 favorites]


If you live in the US this is flatly untrue and has been repeatedly litigated, that you cannot use the cover of "I can refuse anyone for any reason" to have the reason secretly be discriminatory

Yes this is correct, I do understand what the law says. The only people I discriminate against professionally are difficult clients, which is not a protected class :). Can you sue an Airbnb host for denying a request of you think it's because they're racist? Is that possible and how that would work? These "sharing platforms" are not going away so I am genuinely interested in how we can make them more inclusive and what that would look like. when the marketplace is diffused to individuals, how do you detect bias and work to exclude those actors?
posted by bradbane at 1:44 PM on June 23, 2016


The first class of users—people who are letting the occasional vacationer stay in their spare room—probably should be able to deny prospective renters for any reason. After all, they're letting those renters into their homes...

The second class of users—people who are running a bunch of Airbnbs as a full-time business—should be moved into a different, more regulated service (VRBO? I don't know much about VRBO.)...


This would be ridiculously simple for them to implement. In that, they only apply the restrictions to "whole unit, owner not present" bookings

There's a LOT of those, and they're often not even that much more expensive in every city i've looked.

I also don't understand why they didn't only auto-apply the instant book to those.
posted by emptythought at 1:46 PM on June 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


What about, if you rent your place more than four times a year, or for more than 45 calendar days in a year (spitballing numbers), you're subject to FHA and to audit by AirBnB for compliance with FHA?

If you're wondering the reason they haven't implemented anything here, it's because they don't want to admit people use it this much. It's supposed to be an ~occasional~ thing, like all sharing economy stuff. Suzie just drives for lyft a couple times a month on the weekends! It's extra pocket money!

Airbnb's entire party line is that the second class of full-time empty-unit people who set up places to literally run as quasi-hotels doesn't exist. They, if they come up publicly about this, are going to act like category 1 of people renting a bedroom in the place they live in, or when they're out of town on a business for a week are the only users.

If and when they come out to do anything about this, they're going to be waving the white flag of "we gave people the benefit of the doubt because you're like, going to be in their own house with them!" and act like some small group of meanie poo poo butts ruined it for everyone, not that this should have been controlled for very early on.

Another interesting thing i've noticed: Most uber and lyft drivers are people of color, most airbnb hosts are white... just for anyone wondering why this is a "unique" problem to this platform.
posted by emptythought at 2:03 PM on June 23, 2016 [5 favorites]


Airbnb scores hosts on all kinds of metrics (response rate etc). Seems like they could easily measure how inclusive your bookings are and put it on your listing. Make that information public, automatically ban people who fall below a threshold.
posted by bradbane at 2:13 PM on June 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


I'm ordinarily on the free-market side of debates on Metafilter, but there is ZERO principled reason for "shared" unit AirBNB hosts (i.e., one bedroom of the house or apartment you live in) vs. "whole place" AirBNB host to be treated any differently for regulatory purposes.

The FHA roommate exemption is important because it is a housing affordability matter -- it enables people who can't afford a whole house or apartment to find a place to live, by encouraging people to rent out rooms with less fear of government regulation upon them.

I don't feel that there is any reasonable "hotel and motel room affordability" argument. Traveling cheaply is not a basic human requirement like having a place to live. Moreover, the market is very effective at adding hotel and motel rooms and creating a wide range of price availability.
posted by MattD at 2:54 PM on June 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


bradbane: "Yes this is correct, I do understand what the law says. The only people I discriminate against professionally are difficult clients, which is not a protected class :)."

This isn't what you originally stated though:
bradbane: "I own two businesses, neither are open to the public. I can refuse service to anyone for any reason"
In the US it is generally explicitly illegal to refuse to do business with someone because they are part of a protected class. So the asshole black, Jewish woman in a wheelchair can be shown the door for being an asshole but not because they are Jewish or Black or Female or in a wheelchair. The FHA carves out an exception (for no good reason IMO).

sparklemotion: "If you're managing an AirBnB that you never use for yourself, even if you were a member of the KKK, why would you care who stayed there? (I understand the danger of assuming rational thought on the part of racists)."

Because Racists. It's been shown time and again that -ists of all stripes will discriminate against protected classes even when it is against their best interests and even when they are in control of huge companies. It is not just Joe the Baker who doesn't want to serve black people at his lunch counter because "those people" scare away other customers.

It can be really subtle too, see for example Kodak adjusting their films to make white people look good at the expense of black people. And the original impetuous for change? Wood panelling became popular in the 70s.
posted by Mitheral at 3:05 PM on June 23, 2016 [6 favorites]


I don't feel that there is any reasonable "hotel and motel room affordability" argument. Traveling cheaply is not a basic human requirement like having a place to live.

You made the argument yourself:

The FHA roommate exemption is important because it is a housing affordability matter -- it enables people who can't afford a whole house or apartment to find a place to live, by encouraging people to rent out rooms with less fear of government regulation upon them.

I'm pretty sure that we've already seen FPPs linking articles about people living in places they would not be able to afford if they couldn't supplement their income with AirBnB and the like. AirBnB will Uber a whole busload of people in that exact situation to any legislative hearing discussing changes to the exemptions.

Now, there are public policy arguments to be made that allowing these people to discriminate so they can afford to live is ok, but allowing those people to is not. But it seems like a losing battle when you've got the fairly valid emotional concerns surrounding allowing strangers to sleep in your home.

It can be really subtle too, see for example Kodak adjusting their films to make white people look good at the expense of black people. And the original impetuous for change? Wood panelling became popular in the 70s.

I'm going to give up in defending racist "logic" after this, but in the Kodak case my understanding is it was a question of either favouring one skin tone at the expense of another, or just making everyone look kind of meh, because of the limitations of film chemistry at the time. In the 1940s and 50s it would have made financial sense to favour white people because they had the money to buy fancy color film (because racism). It was obviously the wrong decision from a moral point of view but I'm not convinced it was the wrong decision from the financial perspective.

Same with lunch counters. If even 40% of your white customers would refuse to eat at your restaurant because you integrated for the benefit of the 2% of black people in your town who managed to overcome decades of oppression to be able to afford to eat there, integration is a financial money loser. That the guy behind the counter happens to be a flaming racist is just a cherry on top of that particular shit sundae. Why is why America needed a Civil Rights Act.

Same with banks and landlords. They could keep the rest of their racist customers happy by not serving PoC, or by arranging things to create/enforce segregation. Which is why America needed a Fair Housing Act.

AirBnB hoteliers don't seem to have those same incentives. They can't advertise that their building is "white's only," so what's the benefit of keeping paying PoC out?
posted by sparklemotion at 3:59 PM on June 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


the asshole black, Jewish woman in a wheelchair can be shown the door for being an asshole but not because they are Jewish or Black or Female or in a wheelchair.

Sure but even a stone cold racist is just going to say "my calendars full sorry" or whatever. But in the real world even racists have to worry about their reputation though, and a pattern of doing that will get noticed, and there are avenues of recourse and ways to call people out. Someone might get away with it a few times but if it's your business practice that shit won't fly.

Airbnb has no mechanism for users to root out bias. You can't rely on reviews (only people who booked can review), everything's more anonymous (the reason they use photos I imagine is to humanize the service), and there's no public history to look at. Airbnb has the data though and I assume some way to figure this out.

I think that the solution is at the platform level, you're never going to eliminate bias when dealing with individuals, but you can identify patterns. I think that these services should be forced to open their data up, which could be applied more broadly than Airbnb. Then cities can enforce their rental/hotel laws, figure out the professional landlords who want to be hoteliers, and provide context that can be acted on with racists and other bad actors. They obviously do not have the incentives to do this themselves.
posted by bradbane at 4:16 PM on June 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


The benefit is that those AirBnB hosts are the people who wouldn't go to a lunch counter that served PoCs. You know, racists. They're not logical about it.
posted by Etrigan at 4:16 PM on June 23, 2016


I mean this is basically SF's problem: they passed regulations for Airbnb but without access to Airbnbs data it's meaningless.
posted by bradbane at 4:23 PM on June 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


sparklemotion: "I'm going to give up in defending racist "logic" after this, but in the Kodak case my understanding is it was a question of either favouring one skin tone at the expense of another, or just making everyone look kind of meh, because of the limitations of film chemistry at the time."

Sure. However Kodak offered dozens of film stocks for things as esoteric as microscope photography. It wasn't that they couldn't make a film stock that suited dark skin tones they just didn't. In hindsight it is somewhat suspicious at best they didn't market a film for anyone with a darker skin tone than a light tan. Overt racism or just a complete lack of vision? Hard to tell.

I guess we should be glad they didn't bring out a film with pictures of people eating watermelon and fried chicken on the packaging.
posted by Mitheral at 4:47 PM on June 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


Same reason people are actively against changing the name of the Washington NFL team

They should keep the name but change the mascot to a potato
posted by Jacqueline at 4:49 PM on June 23, 2016 [5 favorites]


But you don't need Air's data to pass regulations that protect people and ensure accommodations are safe and non-discriminatory.

If you accept money (or use a service to accept money) to periodically rent out your place, you should be subject to the regulations covering hotels/motels/b&bs based on the number of guests you can host at any one time. Someone, somewhere needs a business license that specifically covers your place, pays the fees that go with that license, ensures that your neighborhood is legal for this type of business, and that the room(s) are subject to inspection by government agencies to meet code for accommodations. Period.

Solved.

Now, if Air's model is that they are the group licensing/insurance/booking/compliance organization, and that if you sign up they take care of the local paperwork, help you with guests, booking, payment, etc., groovy. I imagine if they're a real business in that way, they will want to look at your place to see if it's suitable, safe, clean, etc., etc., so they aren't subject to fines or lawsuits. Righteous.

Is there money to be made with that model, by Air or their hosting "partners"? If not, gosh...it's not actually a viable business. Boo fucking hoo.

Does it turn out your spare moldy basement room isn't suitable as guest accommodation? Boo fucking hoo.

(The whole idea that this is some sort of green campaign to better make use of existing space, blah blah, must have the Air execs howling.)
posted by maxwelton at 4:59 PM on June 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


So would white people booking rooms through one of these new services be a good way to be supportive or would we just be taking rooms away from PoC who don't have as many other options?
posted by Jacqueline at 5:02 PM on June 23, 2016 [3 favorites]


Maxwelton, that's pretty much exactly what SF did but they can't enforce it without cooperation from Airbnb.
posted by bradbane at 5:08 PM on June 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


Wouldn't a good question be - what's the downside if the law says "if you accept money in exchange for accommodation you are prohibited from racial discrimination." Maybe people could hypothetically be exposed to frivolous litigation? I don't know much about this area of the law.

I mean, policy should aim to maximize the availability of good lodging for everybody within realistic constraints, not to disappear a certain tier of operations, so I don't think every single AirBnB host can reasonably be held to the same standard for ADA compliance and so on. But forbidding discrimination against minority guests doesn't seem especially onerous.
posted by atoxyl at 5:34 PM on June 23, 2016


maxwelton, I don't necessarily disagree, but I'd conservatively say that less than half of a percent of current AirBnB properties meet this standard.

If you accept money (or use a service to accept money) to periodically rent out your place, you should be subject to the regulations covering hotels/motels/b&bs based on the number of guests you can host at any one time. Someone, somewhere needs a business license that specifically covers your place, pays the fees that go with that license, ensures that your neighborhood is legal for this type of business, and that the room(s) are subject to inspection by government agencies to meet code for accommodations.

Actually, that's way too high. I'd guess the number approaches zero when you consider elements like required visible and audio fire alarms for the single accessible unit you are required to make your property, inclusive of the accessible parking space, ramp and elevator access, roll-in shower, etc.

And, I don't in any way mean to suggest that anyone in AirBnB started this program out of some grand environmental concern. But the fact remains that people will stay somewhere when and if there is a way to make use of existing space equitable it is a better solution than building entirely new.

Honestly, the best I can come up with on the accessibility issue is some level of mandatory accessible units specifically available for AirBnB using guests within a certain geographic distance of other rentals - but the nuanced details of that is a regulatory nightmare and still promotes the segregation of people with disabilities into special "Access AirBnB" buildings. It would also require AirBnB to get into the business of being international developers which makes me sort of chuckle to even type.

The other equitable option is to essentially say AirBnB is/should be illegal.

(On preview, sure atoxyl, you could pass that law, but it's hard to say it would have any real world impact. And it does pretty explicitly say that racial discrimination is problematic but ableist discrimination gets a pass because .. ?)
posted by meinvt at 5:44 PM on June 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


I didn't say gets a pass I said if you are intermittently renting out a single room in an old building you don't own you ought not to be held to the same accessibility standard as someone building a new hotel because the effect would be to shut down those small operations without actually improving anything for anybody. I'm not saying that existing law actually does that either I'm giving a hypothetical example of a case where regulation would actually be onerous and unproductive in contrast to something I think would not be.

Nothing is 100% effective - I'm responding to the idea that it would somehow be unfair to low-level AirBnB operators to deny them the right to turn away any guest for any reason.
posted by atoxyl at 6:13 PM on June 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


I think this may be one of the few times I have ever agreed with mattd, but his point that the availability of hotel/motel rooms in a given locale is actually one of those things which "the market" does respond to.

I imagine the Motel 6-type chains have the costs pretty well pared down to the actual cost of hosting a guest plus a bit of profit. I don't think Air is providing "the only affordable rooms" in a given town, and if they are, it's because they are almost certainly deficient.

I mean, doesn't it give you pause that 99.5% of the Air rooms available would not even meet the minimal requirements of a strip-mall motel?

As someone noted, this is really going to end when someone whose family has the resources to really legally fight (or there is a large enough pool of people for a class-action suit to form, or something so disastrous happens that elected officials can't just say "thanks for the campaign contributions, guys") takes Air to court looking for not only for a Very Large Settlement but for a ruling which forces them to change the way they do business.

Same thing with Uber or similar services. Some fiery wreck where the poorly-maintained uber car plows into a bus or something godawful like that will end them, too.
posted by maxwelton at 7:32 PM on June 23, 2016 [4 favorites]


Uber has literally billions of VC funds invested in it. It's going to take a lot more than a fiery wreck.
posted by rtha at 8:24 PM on June 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


I try to explain to friends why I avoid Uber - regulation can be a good thing.

This particular thread reminds me of a parallel problem (different, but related): We need institutional/organizational mechanisms to check the effects of individual racism in policing, as many violent police actions begin with a call from a private racist.

PS - I'm at an airbnb right now, and can't wait to sign up for one of the alt sites.
posted by anshuman at 9:01 PM on June 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


Just popping in to say how very proud I was of one of my city council members this afternoon for publicly asking an Airbnb lawyer what the company plans to do about its problems with racism and homophobia. He didn't get much of an answer, but he made pretty much every municipal official in our state (in a heavily-attended panel session on short-term rental regulation) aware of the issue by asking.

(The answer was more or less "it's not an Airbnb problem, it's a societal problem," with extra mollifying language to make it sound less awful.)
posted by asperity at 9:36 PM on June 23, 2016 [2 favorites]


What I just realized is that if you're offering a room or house through Airbnb, and you're not treating this like a real business, you're probably on the hook for unlimited PERSONAL legal and financial liability for injuries to your guests.
posted by mikelieman at 10:06 PM on June 23, 2016


So would white people booking rooms through one of these new services be a good way to be supportive or would we just be taking rooms away from PoC who don't have as many other options?

Sign up as a host.
posted by bradbane at 10:39 PM on June 23, 2016 [1 favorite]


These stories about airbnb hosts rejecting people of colour is a very stark though unsurprising revelation to me how I must be seen on this same market. A white, non-smoking, middle-aged woman, a librarian by profession, travelling alone: I must be the gold standard, because I've never been rejected on airbnb.

It seems to me there are some relatively simple things airbnb could do to monitor discrimination on its service, in spite of all the complications. Airbnb knows who expresses interest in a listing, who asks to book, and who eventually manages book it; they know which hosts reject travellers of colour but accept people like me instead. What if a listing gets a lot of interest, meaning messages are exchanged with the host, but no people of colour try to book it? Sounds like that host may be discouraging certain travellers from even attempting to book. If a host is rejecting a booking for good reasons, they shouldn't end up with a history of rejecting people of colour and turning around and accepting people like me. The data should show a pattern pretty fast, I would think. Airbnb should be weeding out hosts who have a bad track record. Maybe they should fine them and then subsidize those often-rejected travellers, too.
posted by Hildegarde at 12:32 AM on June 24, 2016


Sign up as a host.

That's...a pretty amazing leap to make, assuming that everyone who might want to book a place to stay also has one they can rent out.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 1:19 AM on June 24, 2016 [3 favorites]


It's still a good suggestion for those who can host, though. I imagine both of the new sites urgently need hosts.
posted by mediareport at 9:23 AM on June 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


Can you explicitly advertise that you don't work with people from a protected class? Hell no. But if you call up an electrician (or insert service provider of your choice) and they don't want to work with you for whatever reason, there's nothing that says they have to take your job.

A good example of this is small, independent building contractors. If they really, really don't want to take your job (too small, too little ROI, pain in the ass, too far to drive, any other reason), some of them will just drag their heels giving you a quote, or quote a $4000 job as $15000, or otherwise make it unpleasant to deal with them. They aren't discriminating in an illegal way, but they are certainly discriminating against doing certain types of work.

For that matter, they could discriminate in an illegal way ("don't do work for minority clients") but frame it in a legal way if accused ("I don't do work in that bad neighborhood - the last two jobs I had there, I got tools stolen repeatedly. It's just not worth it.")

It's pretty unlikely that a client or potential client could sue for such forms of discrimination in these cases, nor would the possible recourse be worth the hassle and legal fees.
posted by theorique at 10:55 AM on June 24, 2016


Sign up as a host.

I would if I could! But I currently squat in a barely liveable basement, so...

What I can do is recommend it to my mother, if/when my stepbrother ever moves out of the studio apartment in her attic. She fixed the place up intending to rent it out on AirBNB someday.
posted by Jacqueline at 10:57 AM on June 24, 2016


A good example of this is small, independent building contractors.

If Angie's List were found to list a significant number of small, independent building contractors who routinely turned away work from POCs, to the point that someone found it necessary to form their own Green Book version, and Angie's List's response was a shrug, I'd be pretty annoyed at that too.

Can we stop turning the conversation from "A $20 billion company is allowing racist shit to happen all over the place" to "Yeah, but individual people are allowed to be racist"?
posted by Etrigan at 11:07 AM on June 24, 2016 [3 favorites]


A white, non-smoking, middle-aged woman, a librarian by profession, travelling alone: I must be the gold standard, because I've never been rejected on airbnb.

Take "white" out of it; is there anything wrong with a BnB host (or anyone) preferring you as a client?

There's a strain in some of these postings that it's somehow wrong not to take whatever client comes across the threshhold, first come first served. I really don't understand that. The information that makes AirBnB possible goes in both directions.
posted by msalt at 11:31 AM on June 24, 2016


Take "white" out of it; is there anything wrong with a BnB host (or anyone) preferring you as a client?

It's more instructive to switch "white" for "black" and "I've never been rejected" to "I get rejected often"

Because that's the problem. Middle-aged, female, librarians travelling alone should be the gold standard for airbnb, but if that lady librarian is black, or wears a hijab, there are hosts who will reject her solely because of that.

And it's worse if you're male or travelling with a partner, or not straight, or not in a knowledge working job. Because then you might already be "marginal," but the *ist prejudices are enough to tip the host into "I don't feel comfortable with this person."

It's not so much that it's "wrong" to not take all comers. It's wrong to not take people because of *ist reasons, and the only way to really stop hosts from doing that is to force them to take all comers.
posted by sparklemotion at 11:48 AM on June 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


People as a whole are amazingly bad at learning lessons, and each new generation is amazingly egotistical. It's not like we've never been through this before. Renting out spare rooms in your house, the future is amazing!

The Republican messaging has been so effective over the years that people who wouldn't consider themselves allies still buy in. "Regulation is bad". We have laws for a reason, to fix problems. Most regulations were hard fought for to benefit people and protect them, but the Right has convinced everyone it's just The Man making up crazy shit for no reason to keep everyone down, because that's what they do for some reason.

Of course laws are not infallible, but that's why you fix them, not just throw them out and suddenly decide that everyone that lived before had their head up their ass and obviously never thought of this great solution we've found because The Internet!
posted by bongo_x at 12:07 PM on June 24, 2016 [6 favorites]


Is there any more solid data about the prevalence of discrimination? OP lists two anecdata, and the one study that found applicants with African American sounding names were accepted at 42% instead of 50%. There were no Northern cities in the sample: just Baltimore, Dallas, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Washington, D.C.

There are some oddities in the data, too. For example, they conclude that "Both AfricanAmerican and White hosts discriminate against African-American guests." I'm not trained in statistics, but the numbers in Table 4 (on page 30 of the PDF) seem more complicated than this simple statement.

If I'm reading the numbers there correctly, it appears that the biggest discrimination by far is from African American hosts. Black male hosts actually say yes to white applicants much more than Black applicants (64% and 59% for white men and women respectively, vs. 40% and 43% for Black men and women). Meanwhile Black women say yes to women of either race much more than men (53% and 59% for white and Black women vs. 43% and 38% for white and Black men.)

If I'm not mistaken about that, it changes the meaning of this study dramatically and makes the value of NoireBnB questionable.
posted by msalt at 12:18 PM on June 24, 2016 [4 favorites]


Private companies can have standard practices that exceed current laws. Uber and Lyft can require drivers to meet higher standards than those required by local ordinances for livery services. If AirBnb wants to draw a line in the sand that it will not tolerate any type of discrimination, then it can make those requirements in its TOS and strictly enforce it.
posted by JJ86 at 12:33 PM on June 24, 2016 [1 favorite]


Can we stop turning the conversation from "A $20 billion company is allowing racist shit to happen all over the place" to "Yeah, but individual people are allowed to be racist"?

It's not so much "allowed to be" as "are". The issue is that if they run their own business independently, it flies under the radar and is too small a target. But if they operate a similar business on one of these integrated platforms, then their individual business behaviors become part of a giant data set that can be scrutinized.

For AirBnB, making people not be racist on their platform is a complex, big data problem that is going to be noisy as hell, generate a lot of false positives and false negatives, and possibly create antagonism between the platform company and the individual hosts ("AirBnB said I was being racist, but I turned down that customer because of [non-racist reason X]!"). They do have the power to coerce and shape behavior of the hosts somewhat (perhaps without giving an explicit reason), but that has its limits.

Maybe there will be positive ROI in the form of goodwill and increased bookings; however, I am fairly cynical about a company making big changes to their core systems if those changes don't seriously move the revenue needle.
posted by theorique at 7:49 PM on June 24, 2016 [2 favorites]


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