Following Criticism for Racist Hosts, Airbnb Pledges Changes to Platform, Protocol

By Sameer Rao Sep 08, 2016

Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky pledged three months ago to update the home-sharing company’s platform and address criticism that it doesn’t doesn’t adequately protect users of color from racial discrimination. Today (September 8), the company announced a suite of changes to the platform, staff training and hiring practices to better address users’ concerns.

"Bias and discrimination have no place on Airbnb, and we have zero tolerance for them," Chesky wrote in a blog post that was emailed to users. "Unfortunately, we have been slow to address these problems, and for this I am sorry. I take responsibility for any pain or frustration this has caused members of our community. We will not only make this right; we will work to set an example that other companies can follow."

Chesky’s post accompanied a 32-page report authored by Laura W. Murphy, a former director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Legislative Office. The report outlines Airbnb’s pledged changes, which include the following:

  • A standardized non-discrimination policy
  • A permanent, full-time multidisciplinary product team "whose sole purpose is to advance belonging and inclusion and to root out bias"
  • Quicker and streamlined responses protocol for racial discrimination complaints
  • Mandatory inclusion of women and people from marginalized groups in all senior-level position candidate pools
  • Expanded anti-bias training for employees, as well as new anti-bias training for hosts incentivized by highlighting those who complete the training
  • Increased recruiting at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs), as well as schools with large Latinx populations and high numbers of women in science and engineering programs
  • Platform changes that de-emphasize guests’ profile pictures

Airbnb pledged these reforms in consultation with numerous social scientists, officials like Eric Holder and community advocacy organizations.

"Corporations like Airbnb usher in exciting, market-changing innovations, but those disruptive technologies can also provide a platform for bad actors to engage in racial discrimination and other civil rights violations," Color Of Change CEO Rashad Robinson, whose organization advised company officials during the review process, said in a statement emailed to media outlets. "Airbnb has made substantive policy changes in response to our demands. Color Of Change has been working to move the company towards these changes for a couple of years now, and we and others in the racial justice community will be closely monitoring this effort to gauge whether it brings an end to the dehumanizing treatment many people of color have experienced."

The home-sharing company’s reforms seek to address critiques that the company did not adequately address racial discrimination and bias by hosts. Airbnb previously challenged a 2014 Harvard University study’s finding that Black hosts make less money than White ones. And a Black user filed a class action lawsuit against the company after he successfully booked a room, using two fake White profiles, with a host who wouldn’t accept his original request; his story, alongside myriad others, inspired the popular hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack. Chesky’s announcement in June came soon after the site booted a White host who used racist epithets against a prospective Black guest.

(H/t Buzzfeed News)