It's been an interesting couple of weeks for Airbnb. The startup spent $US8 million to defeat Proposition F in San Francisco, which would have imposed stricter regulations for the company. Days later, a horrifying story about a 2013 death in an Airbnb rental raised concerns that the defeated regulations were badly needed and overdue.
In a recent New York Times, representatives from Airbnb seem like they're trying to save face with a bit of acquiescence. (Oddly, the NYT story makes no mention of the recently disclosed death.) In a statement declaring their commitment to the "Shared City," Airbnb's head of global policy and public affairs Chris Lehane said the Prop F battle was really about attacking the hotel industry:
"We have always said we want to partner with cities," Mr. Lehane said. "As Prop F in San Francisco made clear, our community will fight and win if the hotel interests are threatening the economic lifeline of home sharing, but on the natural we would prefer to be lovers of cities and not fighting with the hotel industry."
Airbnb also published a new "Community Compact," a document outlining some new policies. It begins with what could be the preamble to a Declaration of the Rights of the Sharing Economy:
Airbnb is a people-to-people platform — of the people, by the people and for the people — that was created during the Great Recession to help people around the world use what is typically their greatest expense, their home, to generate supplemental income.
The biggest announcement is that the company will create what it calls "Home Sharing Activity Reports" which will disclose some data that many cities have already been demanding through legal channels:
- The total annual economic activity generated by th eAirbnb community.
- The amount of income earned by a typical Airbnb host.
- The geographic distribution of Airbnb listings.
- The number of hosts who avoided eviction or foreclosure by sharing their home on Airbnb.
- The percentage of Airbnb hosts who are sharing their permanent home.
- The number of days a typical listing is rented on Airbnb.
- The total number of Airbnb guests who visited a city.
- The average number of guests per listing by city.
- The average number of days the average guest stayed in a city.
- The safety record of Airbnb listings.
More data is good, but as I pointed out previously, it's not just about big chunks of anonymous data. People have a right to know if an Airbnb is operating next door or in their apartment building. And although Airbnb can't have prevented the accident that claimed Zak Stone's father's life, the idea of some kind of safety inspections or checklist should be explored. That last bullet is the single, oblique reference to safety in the document.
It remains to be seen exactly how else Airbnb will prove itself as "lovers of cities" when it has already made so many enemies in them.