Airbnb reportedly bans users who, despite clear backgrounds, have been associated with people the company deems to be a security risk. Even as the short-term rental company faces an impossible balancing act of making landlords feel safe without unfairly discriminating against renters, its appeals process — a critical step in covering overruns — sounds innocent and confusing while erring on the side of aspect of homeowners’ perceived security.
Airbnb confirmed Motherboard that it sometimes refuses to rent to users associated with banned individuals who are “likely to travel” with them. For example, in January, Airbnb notified a user named Amanda that she was banned from the platform due to her “close relationship with a person who is not allowed to use Airbnb.” Amanda used her boyfriend’s credit card – who has a criminal record – to book the rental. (Amanda has no criminal record.) She said Motherboard that her partner’s flagged background came from “white-collar duty,” while adding that the two do not share an address or bank account.
Two days after the ban was appealed, Airbnb informed her that it was backing it “after careful consideration” to help “protect our community.” He then slammed the door on the case, adding that he would not be “offering additional support to this case at this time.” Although the company is less transparent about how long it has had this process in place or how often it uses it, its processes require one of two things for a successful appeal: the banned acquaintance causing their ban successfully appeals their ban or the person attempting to rent proves they are not “closely related” to the person in question.
Either way, the company’s subliminal message has relatable undertones: Work with someone with a checkered past — no matter who they are today — and neither of you can use our platform.
Airbnb is a private business, and Amanda could try booking through a competitor — or just get a hotel room. Additionally, we don’t know the exact details of why her boyfriend was banned in the first place. However, the company’s approach highlights a more important issue that we may see again as Big Tech’s ability to profile users becomes more advanced. (The company already uses “anti-party technology,” and rival Vrbo used what is essentially pre-crime for house parties during the Super Bowl.)
So where do you draw the line? Airbnb’s response appears to be a cynical calculation that the risk of negative press about banning dating—perhaps unfairly—is preferable to anything that might make homeowners feel less safe about using the service.
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