By promoting instant bookings and changing some of its technology, online rental marketplace Airbnb will try and mend some f the allegations of racism that it faced on its website. There were reports of widespread racial discrimination against non-white guests by displaying photos less prominently on its website.
This was revealed in a report commissioned by the company.
Sparked partly by comments under Twitter hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack about discrimination against black people, the report followed months of criticism of Airbnb.
“Bias and discrimination have no place on Airbnb, and we have zero tolerance for them. Unfortunately, we have been slow to address these problems, and for this I am sorry,” Chief Executive Officer Brian Chesky wrote in an email to users.
The report from Laura Murphy & Associates said that while testing various formats that downplay users’ photos, reservation request system that emphasize trip details, reviews and verified IDs would be changed by Airbnb before the end of the year.
By January, the instant book program would be expanded to 1 million of its 2 million listings by the San Francisco-based Airbnb. The instant book program allows guests who meet preferences preset by hosts to make reservations without prior approval.
Hosts can require guests to have a 4.5 out of 5 star rating or to provide Airbnb with government issued ID for approval of booking under that program. If hosts have issues with guests’ behavior, they can also cancel bookings without paying a fee.
If hosts tell another guest their listing is unavailable for the same time frame, then they would be prevented from booking new guests according ot a new technology that company will also implement.
Treating fellow members without bias regardless of race, religion, national origin, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age has to be agreed upon by Airbnb users starting Nov. 1.
The company will highlight hosts who participate in its anti-bias training program which will also be made available online. Anti-bias training is mandatory for all staff.
The company is retraining customer service representatives on its diversity policy and has also introduced hiring rules designed to increase diversity among senior-level positions.
The changes received mixed reviews from civil rights organizations and other critics.
Airbnb’s plans were called a victory for activists and individuals who sparked the protests by Rashad Robinson, executive director of anti-discrimination organization Color of Change.
Airbnb executives were sent a letter demanding they take action to address discrimination complaints, earlier this year by Color of Change.
However, creating a policy eliminating the use of photos altogether prior to booking would have made the greatest difference, said Lawyer’s Committee for Civil Rights Under Law President Kristen Clarke.
“The company’s reliance on photos prior to the confirmation stage will allow discrimination to continue rearing its ugly head,” said Clarke, a former Airbnb guest.
The report also fails to address discrimination based on guests’ names, claimed Rohan Gilkes, a tech entrepreneur who cofounded vacation rentals site Innclusive in June as a response to discrimination complaints on Airbnb.
Murphy said technological fixes were the best course of action and called profile photos “essential to Airbnb’s overall mission”, according to the report.
“Technology can bring us together and technology shouldn’t ask us to hide who we are,” reads the report.
(Adapted from Reuters)