How Airbnb keeps its dirtiest secrets out of the news
Chances are, you missed a terrifying and timely briefing this week on Airbnb. It would not be a coincidence.
After all, if a global tech giant fails to erase most traces of this talk from the internet – by replacing such damaging publicity with the sudden launch of a $ 25 million refugee fund, being fed directly to People magazine on Friday, hey, they’re just here to help! – such an enterprise would not exist in the first place.
“Airbnb’s Nightmare,” this week’s cover story in Bloomberg Businessweek, details the inner workings of the company’s secret global crisis team – deployed for years to cover murders, rapes, shootings, in minus a crime against a child and other unspeakable acts in the amount of $ 50 million per year, in payments and nondisclosure agreements.
It is a department known as “the black box”.
Former Black Box employees who have dealt with victimized Airbnb users – the first mandate, they tell Bloomberg, is to keep such reports out of the news, let alone the courts, out of fear that the company’s $ 90 billion market value is not affected – say the job leaves the traumatized.
“I had situations where I had to hang up and cry,” said a former employee. “That’s all you can do.”
Take the case of an Australian woman, then aged 29, staying in a very popular Airbnb rental in New York, a first floor apartment on West 37.e Street. It was in 2015. She and her friends had arrived for the New Years celebrations.
They collected their keys from the Airbnb at a local bodega. It’s simple: no questions asked, no ID is taken.
After the ball dropped, the woman left her friends at a bar and returned to the rental.
Hidden inside, in the dark, was a man with a knife. He would have raped her.
When the police arrested him a few hours later, guess what they found on him?
A set of keys for this same Airbnb rental. It’s unclear how he got them, but as any New Yorker knows, it only takes a trip to the hardware store and $ 2 to copy almost any key.
Of course, Airbnb could force, if not encourage most hosts to have keypads, to change the code after each rental, for everyone’s safety.
But the profit margins, you see.
The day after the 29-year-old was raped, Airbnb crisis manager Nick Shapiro, former CIA deputy chief of staff and former national security adviser to President Obama, received a call.
Shapiro told Bloomberg that learning of the rape “brought me back to the feeling that I was facing some really horrible problems in Langley and in the White House situation room.”
Within hours, Airbnb transferred the young woman to a hotel, flew with her mother, and then brought them both back to Australia, promising to cover all costs related to the trauma. Within days, the company was going through court documents to see if Airbnb was mentioned.
It was not.
In a way, history never made the news. Two years later, Airbnb paid the woman $ 7 million in return for her silence.
Despite all the constant talk in Washington about the dissolution of Big Tech – which we all know will never happen – why won’t the federal government shoot a little lower? How can it be legal, or at least not illegal, for an American company like Airbnb to actively cover up crimes?
Bloomberg reports that less than 0.1% of stays, out of more than 200 million per year, have a difficult outcome. But that’s according to Airbnb itself, and it still makes 200,000 complaints per year.
Consider superstar investor Chris Sacca’s response when asked to join as an early investor: “Guys,” he said, “that’s super dangerous. Someone is going to be raped or murdered, and the blood is going to be on your hands.
It continues: Bloomberg’s Olivia Carville writes about a 2011 attack in which a Barcelona host lured two American women into his home and raped them. A police search uncovered hundreds of photos of other rape victims.
A serial rapist, active on Airbnb. He was sentenced to 12 years in prison. The women got an undisclosed amount from Airbnb.
Make no mistake: This company has calculated internally that spending $ 50 million a year to silence victims costs less than getting it right.
“The silver cannon,” calls it a former security guard.
The guests curl up in the cupboards as the attackers try to sniff them out; teams sent to clean up blood and other bodily fluids, mend bullet holes, or appease the poor soul that stumbles upon dismembered human body parts – these are the horror stories common to Black Box staff members.
Airbnb went public last December. Its stock opened at $ 146 per share, making it the biggest tech IPO of our pandemic year. With more global listings than the top five hotel brands combined, Airbnb now has more dominance than responsibility or guilt.
Who will dare to dispute this?