Discrimination by Airbnb hosts is rampant, report finds

Airbnb likes to present itself less as a business and more as a “community”. To that end, it has made real-person trust the cornerstone of its business strategy in short-term home rentals.

But new research suggests that when users get real, racism can result.

A working paper by three Harvard researchers found “widespread discrimination” by hosts against people with black sounding names looking for locations. Fictitious guests created by researchers with names like Lakisha or Rasheed were about 16% less likely to be accepted than identical guests with names like Brent or Kristen.

“Obviously, the manager of a Holiday Inn cannot review the names of potential customers and reject them based on race,” the authors wrote. “Still, it’s common on Airbnb.”

Airbnb, valued by investors at around $ 24 billion and based in San Francisco, said in a statement that it is “committed to making Airbnb one of the most open, trusted, diverse and transparent communities in the world. “.

He added: “We recognize that prejudice and discrimination are significant challenges, and we welcome the opportunity to work with anyone who can help us reduce potential discrimination in the Airbnb community.”

Last July, researchers sent housing requests to approximately 6,400 hosts in five cities: Baltimore, Dallas, Los Angeles, St. Louis and Washington. Renters with African-American sounding names got a positive response about 42% of the time, compared to about 50% for white customers.

The results “are remarkably persistent,” the researchers wrote, with whites discriminating against blacks, blacks discriminating against blacks, and male and female users exhibiting bias.

The authors suggested that the solution is simple: don’t require users to reveal their name.

With more than two million listings in 190 countries, Airbnb has solid data on the reliability of its hosts and guests, from verified profiles to reviews from other users. Benjamin G. Edelman, associate professor at Harvard Business School and one of the authors of the article, argued that these measures are what should matter when assessing whether to move forward. with a transaction.

“Compare that with whether the guest’s name is Barack or the guest’s name is Bono,” Mr. Edelman said.

“At one point you say, ‘You know, it might be nice to see people’s names and faces, but hey, think about how bad it does to some people. “”

Airbnb, the flagship of the so-called sharing economy, has strongly argued that anonymity is incompatible with building trust between users. The anxiety of letting a stranger into your home, the argument goes, is mitigated by a name and a friendly face.

“Access is built on trust, and trust is built on transparency. When you take away anonymity, it brings out the best in people, ”said Brian Chesky, CEO of Airbnb, in 2013.“ We believe anonymity has no place in Airbnb’s future. or the sharing economy.

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