Airbnb criminal background checks spark fury and ban user bookings

Airbnb uses third-party services to perform background checks on guests and hosts. Photo / George Prentzas, Unsplash

Since 2019, vacation rental company Airbnb has invested heavily in safety measures for guests and hosts. However, with over a billion stays in more than 200 countries this year, the travel website has taken a large-scale approach to security screening that many users may not be aware of.

Depending on where you are, a public criminal record may affect your ability to book a property or result in a “ban” from Airbnb.

Earlier this year, Bethany Hallam of Pittsburgh was one of those users to receive an automated “criminal record match.”

Hallam posted the email to Twitter in what appeared to be some pretty extreme language.

“Did I just…get a lifetime Airbnb booking ban for a 9 year possession charge?”

Hallam, a counselor and recovering opioid addict, was alarmed to learn that she would no longer be able to use the website as a guest or host. Even more alarming was the fact that she had been using the platform for six years without issue.

Airbnb says it has been using third-party software to screen profiles since 2016.

She was trying to book a vacation in Florida when the automated ban sent her on a decade-old criminal charge.

“My background hasn’t changed since they claimed the policy went into effect,” Hallam told USA Today. “And I’ve booked with Airbnb dozens and dozens of times and never had a single problem.”

Several other users have since reported bans from Airbnb for minor infractions.

Earlier this year, Airbnb user Ashlin Nicole was reportedly banned for a 10-year ‘misdemeanor’ for leave a dog off-leash in public. Sharing the experience with Reddit, Nicole said a similar ban came after she tried to use the website.

“My case is literally two misdemeanors from 2013 that I received because my dog ​​was off leash and I didn’t register my dog,” she wrote on Reddit. “I appealed but they refused and said the decision was final.”

In emails shared with Motherboard, Airbnb confirmed that it was pet-related police records that flagged Nicole’s profile.

How Airbnb automatically screens guests

Airbnb says it performs user background checks using approved third-party “background check providers.”

The checks performed and the information shared vary from country to country. Currently, it’s only applied to transactions in the US and India, but most profiles will go through some sort of automated background check.

In the United States, this means checking a host or guest’s first name, last name, and date of birth against public criminal records and sex offender registries.

For New Zealanders and non-US residents using the website, Airbnb says it can check local public criminal records or the equivalent for those trying to book rooms.

Airbnb could not share more details about the resources consulted for background checks in New Zealand and Australia, but that their partners’ systems “enable us to protect our community and help travelers enjoy ‘safe and positive travel experiences’.

For anyone using the website, Airbnb says it screens profiles against the US OFAC list, which details terrorists, traffickers and individuals under international sanctions.

However, that doesn’t explain how someone could get a lifetime ban for poor pet control.

In the United States, Airbnb outsources its background check to Inflection, a software company with offices in California and Ukraine.

Its SafeDecision program runs user profiles against country and state criminal records.

Airbnb’s guidelines on background checks state that deleting an account depends on the severity of the criminal history.

“Less serious crimes like disorderly conduct or possession of marijuana are not removable offenses,” the website says, but “other crimes” can result in permanent expulsion.

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