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Airbnb cuts 4,000 hosts for violating nondiscrimination policy, including racial bias

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Airbnb Inc., which faced a spate of backlash for charges of racial profiling of guests before initiating tougher standards, has bounced nearly 4,000 accounts from its home-sharing app this year for violating its nondiscrimination policy.

The policy asks hosts to treat guests with respect and without judgment or bias based on factors like race. The 2022 figure marks a decline from the 5,100 accounts removed last year.

Roughly 1.2 million users globally have been either removed from the platform or denied access to Airbnb
since June 2020 for failing to commit to its nondiscrimination policy, says an update to an internal report released Tuesday. Airbnb has more than 4 million hosts around the world as of March this year.

Airbnb focused its initial review of discrimination potential on its booking success rate in the U.S., or the rate at which guests from different perceived racial groups successfully book a stay.

In 2021, guests perceived to be white had the highest booking success rate at 94.1%, while guests perceived to be Black had a rate of 91.4%. The company said that fewer than 1% of guests and hosts opted out of participating in the fact-finding.

The figures released Tuesday are part of an update to a platform equity audit that was first conducted six years ago. And it includes new data from Project Lighthouse, an initiative launched in 2020 to address disparities people of color experience on Airbnb.

“In partnership with Color Of Change, the nation’s largest online racial justice organization with millions of members, and with guidance from civil rights and privacy rights organizations, Airbnb will launch a groundbreaking project to measure and fight bias and discrimination,” the company said when it launched the effort.

“The findings will inform the creation and updates of tools and policies to help combat racial discrimination and bias that Black users and other people of color have faced when using Airbnb,” it said.

Read: Airbnb hosts have booked white nationalists, while some guests have found spy cameras — management says it’s improving safety

In 2015 and 2016, the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack circulated on social media, highlighting racism experienced by some of the platform’s users. Several Black users discussed being denied bookings until they changed their names online or used generic profile photos. Some said that using photos of white individuals appeared to game the system.

study conducted by Harvard Business School researchers affirmed these anecdotes. After studying 6,400 Airbnb listings in five American cities, the study concluded that “requests from guests with distinctively African American names are roughly 16% less likely to be accepted than identical guests with distinctively white names.”

In Portland, Ore., a suit was settled in 2019 in favor of three Black women who alleged the rental site’s use of names and photographs allowed for racial discrimination, violating the state’s public accommodation laws. Airbnb then initiated a policy that hosts would only see a guest’s initials until a booking is confirmed, after which their full name is visible.

Airbnb also says it has invested in its instant booking tool to help combat disparity when it comes to reservation success rates. Because these types of reservations don’t require a review of the guest by the host prior to hitting accept, “bookings are more objective,” according to the company.

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Airbnb said it expects at least 5 million more users will be able to use instant book because of the changes, although it says for now, guests with reviews have higher future booking rates than those without reviews.

“I am excited that Airbnb is embracing transparency by using this report to share this data with the public. Too often companies find discrimination problems and want to bury them in secrecy,” said Laura Murphy, president of Laura Murphy & Associates, a civil-rights leader who has advised Airbnb.

Racism can also impact Airbnb hosts. Asian Americans were the target of racist abuse and physical assaults during the COVID-19 pandemic and that extended to their ability to make money as hosts on the online platform, a study found.

For sure, Airbnb is facing ever-closer scrutiny as it’s hit with growing pains and demands from users no longer awed by the new concept of a hotel alternative. Demand has been in question by some after a flurry of interest from work-from-home users who wanted to get away during the worst of COVID-19, but who may now be back into their regular routines.

Yet while some Reddit and other social media chatter leaves the impression that guests aren’t as happy with the quality and relative flexibility of Airbnb since the early days of the platform, actual data seems to make a different argument.

Total demand for short-term rentals actually rose 24% in September compared with the same month last year, according to a recent report by AirDNA, a vacation rental data platform. Average daily rates rose a staggering 31.9% compared with 2019.

Read: How a vacation-rental bust would affect the home-buying market


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