New app counts guest phones to avoid Airbnb’s ‘party house’ problem

An app from a Silicon Valley startup uses new technology to count the number of people in a home, and it’s offering its services to help Airbnb hosts protect their short-term rentals from parties that have become a bane for the home. industry, as Airbnb prepares to go public.

Party Squasher uses a sensor that can be hidden in hosts’ houses. The device connects to a cloud service to passively count mobile devices in and around a home, even if they are not connected to WiFi, to provide data on the number of mobile devices, that is- that is to say of people, in a property.

The app is created by BlueZoo Inc., a Silicon Valley-based startup.

“We’ve seen interest in Party Squasher skyrocket recently,” said CEO Bill Evans. He believes the combination of the pandemic, Airbnb’s upcoming IPO and the growing problem of party houses are the reasons for the increased interest.

The New York Times reported this week that the party problem has gotten significantly worse during the coronavirus pandemic, as people look for places to socialize with bars closed. Complaints about party houses on sites like Airbnb and VRBO are up 250% this summer compared to last year, according to Host Compliance, which provides local helplines in the United States and Canada.

In July, a party at an Airbnb house in New Jersey with 700 attendees was broken up by police.

Last year, a shooting at a Halloween party at an Airbnb in the Bay Area killed five people. The shooting in Orinda led the company to ban party houses and create a “party house rapid response team” to take immediate action against those who violate policies on large gatherings.

Airbnb introduced new rules against party homes this year as the $18 billion company prepares to go public. When the company filed for public registration in August, it imposed a 16-person cap on bookings, banned parties and began prosecuting guests responsible for the events. The company has also completely banned one-night bookings in the United States over this Halloween weekend.

Owners using Party Squasher can specify different occupancy alert thresholds for each property and only receive alerts if detection occupancy exceeds the selected limit.

Evans believes his product will prove a valuable tool for hosts where previous attempts to use devices to prevent parties have failed.

“Traditional solutions to the problem were pretty rudimentary, you put a microphone in a box and it measured the noise level,” says Evans, “people would just throw a pillow over it or have a party in another room.”

The company says there are no privacy concerns with the technology, as the device has no microphone or camera and does not collect or store personal data or track phone numbers.

Airbnb’s current policy is for hosts to tell guests that the app is installed and working in the home.

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