Airbnb blocks Oregon hosts from seeing guest names to fight racial bias | Airbnb

Airbnb rental hosts in the state of Oregon will no longer be able to see guest names before approving their reservations, according to a new plan announced by the company.

The policy update is specific to Oregon, for now, and grew out of a lawsuit in which three black women from the Portland, Oregon area alleged that the rental site’s use of names and photographs allowed racial discrimination, violating the state’s public lodging laws. .

The suit was settled in 2019and from January 31, Airbnb announcement this week, hosts in Oregon will only see a guest’s initials until their reservation is confirmed, after which their full name will be visible. The update will be in effect for at least two years, the company said.

“As part of our ongoing work, we will learn all the lessons from this process and use them to inform future anti-bias efforts,” the company added.

Complaints of discrimination on Airbnb are not new. In 2015 and 2016, the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack circulated, highlighting the racism experienced by some users of the platform. Many black users spoke of being refused reservations until they changed their name online or used generic profile pictures. Some have even found that using photos of white individuals could cheat the system.

A to study conducted by researchers at Harvard Business School in 2016 confirmed these stories through data. After studying 6,400 Airbnb listings in five US cities, the study concluded that “requests from guests with typically African American names are about 16% less likely to be accepted than identical guests with typically African American names. white”.

Supporters called Oregon’s policy change a good start, but warned the adjustment shouldn’t be heralded as the end of racism on Airbnb.

“We believe measuring discrimination is essential to eliminating it, and we believe all tech companies should take responsibility for it,” said Johnny Mathias, deputy senior campaign manager for the racial justice organization. Color of Change.

In order to know if the changes are meaningful, Mathias continued, companies need to measure the results and be transparent with their findings. In other words, making a gesture without numbers to support its effectiveness is useless. “I’m glad Oregon has specific public lodging laws that provide for this lawsuit,” he added. “But if that specific change is the most important change to ensure [they’re] fight discrimination on the Airbnb platform, we will only know if we see the research.

As with most emerging technology platforms, rules and regulations often catch up with the technologies they are meant to govern. In their study, the Harvard researchers noted that anti-discrimination housing laws that dominate traditional landlords — such as those who rent large apartment buildings — are often lost on smaller-scale landlords who use Airbnb. .

Airbnb resisted removing the names and photos altogether, arguing that they add to the sense of community on the site. But the company has taken steps to combat bias on its platform. In 2018 he announcement that he would hide customers’ profile pictures until their booking was accepted. It also requires all hosts and guests to agree to the Airbnb Community Pledge, “which requires all who use Airbnb to treat others without discrimination and with respect.” And in 2020, Airbnb launched Flagship Projectan initiative created to measure bias on its own platform, along with Color of Change and other civil rights organizations.

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