Airbnb has a secret team to hide crimes that happen in their homes, and here’s how they work

June 24, 2021

7 minutes to read

This article was translated from our Spanish edition using AI technologies. Errors may exist due to this process.

A few days ago, it was revealed that the short-term rental platform Airbnb had kept a crime committed in one of its homes a secret. However, the case is far from the only or the worst the company has had to deal with.

Through a survey of Bloomberg, it is now known that Airbnb has an “elite trust and security team” that reacts immediately to cover up crimes that occur in the properties offered by the platform. The team helps the company spend millions of dollars to compensate victims and avoid a reputational crisis.

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For years, the San Francisco, California-based company has had a special security department that handles incidents. The goal is that these do not reach the ears of the public and ensure that the victims release Airbnb from any responsibility in the events.

According to media reports, the company spends an average of $ 50 million per year in restitution for its clients who are victims of crime.

How does Airbnb’s elite security team work?

In its early days, Airbnb founders Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia, and Nate Blecharczyk were personally tasked with managing crises. However, with the growth of the business, the number of incidents also increased and they decided to hire specialized staff to handle the complaints.

The elite security department, known internally as the “black box” for its secrecy, is made up of around 100 agents in various cities around the world. Many of them have military training and emergency services, or are former members of the high-level security forces.

The investigation reveals that, as soon as a criminal incident occurs in an accommodation, the closest agent (s) mobilize to immediately contact the victim. They are responsible for providing moral support to those affected, as well as all the facilities for their care and comfort. This includes accommodating them in luxury hotels, covering medical expenses, paying for transportation back to their hometown, and offering juicy financial or in-kind compensation, such as paid trips around the world.

The Crisis Service is also responsible for hiring specialist crews to clean blood off walls, carpets and furniture, or contractors to repair property damage such as bullet holes, as well as services for eliminate human remains.

According to the informants, who requested anonymity, the work is very stressful as they have to balance the interests of the company, the hosts and the guests. Therefore, they have special rooms with a relaxing atmosphere to answer the most disturbing calls. “I had situations where I had to hang up and go cry,” said a former agent. “That’s all you can do.”

Some of the ex-agents interviewed say they end up suffering from some sort of collateral trauma or post-traumatic stress disorder.

How are agreements formed between Airbnb and victims of crime on their properties?

The agents are authorized to spend what is necessary and their watchword is to reach an agreement with the victim as soon as possible.

Until 2017, sources say, every deal included a nondisclosure clause that prevented the victim from speaking out about the case, asking for more money, or suing the company. However, the pressure of moves like #MeToo has forced Airbnb to change these terms.

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Now, the agreements say that tenants and hosts must forgo discussing the terms of the agreement and take legal action against the company arguing that the agreement is an admission of wrongdoing.

It also includes a confidentiality clause in case the incident reaches the legal authorities. That is, while they can (and should) report the crime, they should not blame or implicate the platform, but directly the person who committed the crime.

What types of crimes have happened in Airbnb accommodation?

Eight former damage control team members and 45 other Airbnb employees (current and former), have revealed all kinds of frightening cases to Bloomberg. Stories range from physical assaults, thefts and vandalism to sexual assaults, rapes and the discovery of dismembered bodies.

In 2011, Airbnb faced its first serious major security crisis. A hostess from San Francisco wrote on her blog about how her home was ransacked and vandalized by tenants. The owner denounced that the company had given him no help and only asked him to erase the story as it could hurt a future fundraising round. When the case went viral on social media, Airbnb founder and CEO Brian Chesky publicly apologized and promised to compensate her for a million dollars.

Stories tell of hosts who threw suitcases out of windows, hidden cameras in bedrooms, and people who had to hide in closets or flee isolated cabins after being attacked by hosts.

In October 2011, an Airbnb owner in Barcelona poisoned two American visitors and raped them. The next morning, when the girls surrendered to the police, the perpetrator threatened to upload videos of the attack to the Internet. Local authorities searched the apartment and found hundreds of photos that documented other attacks. The man was sentenced to 12 years in prison, while the young women received financial compensation, the amount of which is still unknown.

There’s also the unfortunate case of a guest who was found naked in bed with the host’s seven-year-old daughter.

So far, only one case against Airbnb has reached US courts. This is a tenant who accused the host of locking her in a bathroom and masturbating in front of her. Its lawyer sued the company for failing to respect its commitment to protect its users. In the end, the victim agreed to a financial settlement in exchange for dropping the charges.

They already saw it coming

Founded in 2008, Airbnb quickly established itself in the tourist accommodation industry, but its security policies have since been called into question.

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One of the first investors they were able to reach was Chris Sacca, a Silicon Valley venture capitalist who pumped money into giants like Instagram, Twitter and Uber. After the founders’ pitch, he gave them a warning that now sounds like a premonition.

“Guys, this is super dangerous. Someone is going to be raped or murdered, and the blood is going to be on your hands,” Sacca said bluntly and did not invest in the platform.

After this first crisis in 2011, the company established a 24-hour customer service line and trained the elite security team.

Airbnb noted that less than 0.1% of their rental units reported safety concerns. But, considering the fact that every year more than 200 million bookings are made through the platform, this percentage actually represents a high number of cases. Only the most serious are transferred to the internal security team.

Many of the crimes that happen in Airbnb rentals could have happened elsewhere. In this sense, the platform makes it clear that just as nightclubs cannot eradicate sexual assault and hotels cannot stop human trafficking, the company cannot stop some people from using Airbnb. to commit crimes.

“People are naturally unpredictable, and as much as we try, sometimes really bad things happen,” said Tara Bunch, director of global operations at Airbnb. Bloomberg.

The executive adds “we all know you can’t stop it all,” but at the end of the day, what’s important is the company’s response to the unexpected.

“We go the extra mile to make sure anyone impacted on our platform is taken care of,” Bunch said. “We don’t really care about the brand and image component. “

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