AIRBNB ADOPTS RULES IN EFFORT TO FIGHT DISCRIMINATION BY ITS HOSTS
SAN FRANCISCO — 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.
The actions are a response by Airbnb to questions about discrimination that have threatened to cloud the company’s fast growth. 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. Several Airbnb users shared stories on social media this year saying that they had been denied a booking because of their race.
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.
Laura Murphy, a former director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington legislative office who was hired by Airbnb to compile the report, said the company’s chief executive, Brian Chesky, acknowledged that it had been too slow to address discrimination.
“There have been too many unacceptable instances of people being discriminated against on the Airbnb platform because of who they are or what they look like,” Ms. Murphy wrote in the report.
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.
Founded in August 2008, Airbnb has connected more than 60 million guests with short-term rentals in more than 34,000 cities and 191 countries. The privately held company is valued at $25 billion, and its expansion has depended partly on the idea that it could be a global company, providing a broad range of people with places to stay when they travel.
“While Airbnb did not accept all of the recommendations we offered, they did thoughtfully consider them, and this report is evidence of that,” said Wade Henderson, president and chief executive of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights, which advised on the report.
The report, he said, “is an important first step that shows an openness to considering far-reaching solutions to reducing discrimination on the Airbnb platform.”