Airbnb has long dealt with a problem of racist hosts who discriminate against people for reasons including race, ethnicity, and gender. After facing widespread criticism and class action lawsuits, the burgeoning startup valued at upwards of $US25 ($33) billion is rolling out new rules in an attempt to combat racism.
Airbnb now says it will try to rely less on user photos, which provide an easy way for hosts to discriminate against potential guests. The company will also roll out an "Open Door" policy. This means that Airbnb will find guests another place if they feel like they have been discriminated against.
It remains to be seen whether any of these new polices — which include a "permanent, full-time product team to fight bias and promote diversity" — will actually work to curb discrimination. Airbnb's 34-page report, detailing research into the discrimination by hosts, claims that the company "generally confirmed public reports that minorities struggle more than others to book a listing." The report also found that Airbnb users who complained of discrimination "did not receive the timely, compassionate response they expected and deserved." In some cases, like the ones involving lawsuits, Airbnb completely ignored some users who complained about discrimination.
The report also concluded that Airbnb's own workforce, just like every other tech company in Silicon Valley, is not sufficiently diverse. Accordingly, Airbnb plans to roll out more "Instant Bookings" which allow someone to book a short term rental on the service without receiving prior approval from the host.
In the meantime, discrimination is still a real problem for Airbnb. On Thursday, for instance, Gizmodo found a listing on Airbnb in Washington DC that didn't allow for guests who travelled to the city via bus, which is typically a cheaper travel option than a train or plane ticket.
When we reached out to Airbnb about this particular listing, the company said it is "investigating this particular situation and will take appropriate action." We will update this post when we hear back.
All that said, these new policies seem like a genuine effort by Airbnb to fix a serious problem. Airbnb needed it, too. It's hard to become a beloved tech startup that wants to change how people travel, if the service offered is viewed as inherently racist and discriminatory. But again, we'll have to wait and see if the policies will be effective.