Airbnb decided to voluntarily release data in December to show just how much of a boon to the local economy the service can be. The problem: Airbnb apparently tampered with the data before they released it.
According to Inside Airbnb, a blog dedicated to home rental company, Airbnb “ensured a flattering picture by carrying out a one-time targeted purge of more than 1000 listings”. Murray Cox, who runs the site, said that he and reporter Tom Slee identified 3331 listings belonging to hosts with two or more entire-home rentals. A few weeks later, 1438 of those homes had disappeared. This is a big deal because Airbnb claims that it helps people “earn a little extra money to pay the bills”, while sceptics argue the company is simply bending laws in order to skirt hotel tax laws.
“Airbnb’s message was that only 10 per cent of Entire Homes listings belonged to hosts with multiple listings,” said Cox the report. “The true number had been close to 19 per cent for all of 2015.”
The entire point of the data dump was to prove that “95 per cent of [Airbnb’s] entire home hosts share only one listing”. The story from Inside Airbnb claims that the claim was only true for less than two weeks of the year. So the misleading numbers make it seem like Airbnb purposefully skewed its data in order to lead people to believe that people aren’t using the service to run de facto — and likely illegal — hotel businesses.
Multiple home listings are particularly troubling for Airbnb because they’re the reason that the system is corrupt in the first place. People who can afford to host several Airbnb rentals in expensive cities like San Francisco and New York City blatantly flout the law, remove housing in high-demand areas, drive up rental prices and aren’t held accountable for hotel taxes.
But it might not even matter. Companies like Uber and Airbnb are known to rapidly expand into new cities, breaching local taxation and employment rules, sorting out the details at a later time. And that’s what Airbnb is doing. It’s just growing its inventory of awesome rentals while try to silence its critics. I just wish that the company’s efforts to be more transparent didn’t come at the cost of corruption.