Airbnb, the popular couch surfing business is taking steps to address the issue of discrimination displayed by potential hosts. The company has hired a number of specialists to look into the matter, and they’ve also changed some of their rules, to combat the problem.
The company was heavily criticized for the fact that hosts can very easily reject potential guests based on race, gender, or age.
It all began with a study published by Harvard University. The study claimed that people who had names that sounded African-American found it harder to get rooms via Airbnb.
After the publication of the study, more and more stories started emerging. Many people claimed that hosts rejected them because of their race. The culmination of this wave of criticism came in May. One African-American man filled a class-action law suit against the company, claiming that he too had been unable to rent a place because of his race.
Airbnb was founded in 2008, in San Francisco. Since then, it has expanded its services to nearly 34.000 cities all around the world. The company helps connect potential guests with hosts living in the respective city. It has become a very popular alternative to staying in a hotel. The estimated value of the company is now 25 billion dollars. Part of the reason why it has expanded so rapidly is the philosophy behind the company. They help connect people all around the world, and promote an authentic experience of the country they visit.
As such, claims of discriminatory practices can severely damage the company’s image. They are now scrambling to address the issue.
Earlier this week, Airbnb told its users that they must adhere to a nondiscriminatory policy and must agree to “community commitment,” starting November 1st. They also announced that soon they will try to reduce the prominence of photographs that could indicate gender and race. They would also look to develop the instant booking system. This would allow users to book a place immediately, without the hosts’ approval.
Airbnb Still Faces Criticism
Diversity advocates are unsure whether the measures Airbnb is planning to take will be enough to fight the issue. They are skeptical if Airbnb will be able to enforce them in the first place, and whether or not they are sufficient. They argue that hosts can use other methods of discriminating against potential guests.
Jamila Jefferson-Jones, a law professor at the University of Missouri says she is concerned that Airbnb’s measures are perhaps too soft on hosts who have taken discriminatory actions. She states the company hasn’t mentioned whether or not they will ban hosts who have violated company policies in this respect. She was also worried the measures could further segregate the minority communities.
Airbnb did not provide any details about how they are going to implement the changes. Thought they want deemphasize photos, they will not eliminate them entirely. The terms of the change are still somewhat vague.
On the other hand, a second wave of backlashes can be expected. There are obviously some concerns regarding the hosts’ rights as well. Many believe it is their right to choose who they allow to take on as a guest, and feel that these measures infringe upon that right.
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