Posted on September 8, 2016

Airbnb Adopts Rules in Effort to Fight Discrimination by Its Hosts

Katie Benner, New York Times, September 9, 2016

Airbnb introduced several changes on Thursday to combat discrimination in its short-term rental policy, after facing months of criticism that its hosts are easily able to reject potential renters based on race, religion, gender, ethnicity, age or disability.

In a 32-page report, Airbnb, based in San Francisco, said that it would institute a new nondiscrimination policy that goes beyond what is outlined in several anti-discrimination laws and that it would ask all users to agree to a “community commitment” starting on Nov. 1. The commitment asks people to work with others who use the service, “regardless of race, religion, national origin, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age.”

In addition, the company plans to experiment with reducing the prominence of user photos, which have helped signal race and gender. Airbnb said it would also accelerate the use of instant bookings, which lets renters book places immediately without host approval.

{snip} In December, Harvard University researchers released a working paper that concluded it was harder for guests with African-American-sounding names to rent rooms through the site. {snip}

In May, Gregory Selden, who is African-American, filed a class-action discrimination suit against the company, saying that he had been denied a place to stay because of his race.


Airbnb has also assembled a permanent team of engineers whose purpose is to root out bias in the way the company functions. Airbnb now routes discrimination complaints to a group of trained specialists. Apart from Ms. Murphy, the company has brought in advisers including a former United States attorney general, Eric H. Holder Jr., and John Relman, a civil rights attorney based in Washington.