Airbnb is in the hot seat for facilitating discrimination in the overnight stay marketplace. Many people have complained publicly. An academic study documented discrimination by hosts on Airbnb. Hosts in the study were found to discriminate again customers with African-American names. There was a class actions suit against Airbnb for racial discrimination. The suit claims Airbnb did nothing to correct discrimination by hosts using it platform. And, numerous people posted discrimination stories on twitter at #airbnbwhileblack.
Interestingly, competitors have popped up, such as Innclusive.com, which offer hosts who don’t discriminate.
Airbnb claims they are only a service that links buyers and sellers in a private marketplace. They say they are not subject to anti-discrimination laws.
The federal government prohibits discrimination in public accommodation and faculties under Title II of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. Title II prohibits discrimination based on race, color, religion and national origin in public accommodations (inns, hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, sporting events and gas stations). There is an exemption for private, owner occupied residences with less than five rooms for rent.
However Airbnb hosts, as private citizens renting private rooms, are not subject to the law. As a result discrimination based on race is widespread.
Airbnb, which fears bad press and possible law suits, has put together a group of lawyers and academics, to make recommendations. The team was led by Laura Murphy from the ACLU and featured Eric Holder, ex- US attorney general. There were also other lawyers and academics. They reported to Brian Chesky, the CEO of Airbnb.
The report was delivered on September 8th, 2016. The full report was not made public, but some of the recommendations appear on the Airbnb web site. The changes include making hosts sign a stronger non-discrimination agreement, reducing the prominence of photos in profiles, allowing booking without host refusal (instant book) and hiring a more diverse workforce. They also created an internal group to handle discrimination complaints and developed anti-bias training sessions for hosts.
Airbnb also claims that their “data science team” will look for “tech tools” to “help enforce their anti-discrimination policy.” Not sure what that means. But it does make you wonder how active they will enforce their new anti-discrimination problem. In fact, Airbnb already has the data to prove discrimination. It could easily look for a racial pattern in host denials.
Airbnb also forces all users to accept “section” 34(see entry below) which restricts class action lawsuits. Class action litigation is an important civil rights tool because it can show a pattern of bias across multiple injured parties rather than the more expensive individual claims.
Overall, it looks like Airbnb is making a half halfhearted attempt at ending discrimination. It looks like a PR campaign. We know it has the data to do way more. It could use it's data to expel blatant racist and thereby publicly send a message to all hosts they will be held to the same standard as title II of the civil rights act.
Airbnb Bad Press
In addition, Airbnb Terms and Policies prohibit class action law-suits
Section 34 of the Airbnb terms and conditions includes the following text.
“You acknowledge and agree that you and Airbnb are each waiving the right to a trial by jury or to participate as a plaintiff or class member in any purported class action lawsuit, class-wide arbitration, private attorney-general action, or any other representative proceeding. Further, unless both you and Airbnb otherwise agree in writing, the arbitrator may not consolidate more than one person's claims, and may not otherwise preside over any form of any class or representative proceeding.”