Airbnb hides guest names from hosts to combat racial prejudice, but only if you live in Oregon

Airbnb limits the way guest profiles are displayed on its platform to guard against racial discrimination from its hosts, but only if you’re from Oregon.

As of January 31, Hosts of the Short-Term Vacation Rental app will only see the initials of a potential guest until the reservation is confirmed. The policy stems from a 2019 settlement agreement Airbnb struck with three Oregon women who claimed that forcing users to disclose their full names and photos allows hosts to discriminate against black users in violation. state laws on public housing.

In a December 22 blog post, the company said the new policy was part of a larger package of efforts to eliminate racial prejudice on its platform.

Airbnb requires users to agree to a set of community guidelines that prohibit discrimination, and it’s changed the way profile photos are displayed to make bookings more objective. In 2020, she launched Project Lighthouse, an analytics tool that can be used to determine if certain user groups have acceptance rates that are significantly different from the standard.

“While we have made progress, we have a lot more to do and continue to work with our hosts and guests, and with civil rights leaders to make our community more inclusive,” company officials wrote in a statement. unsigned press release.

The new policy applies only to customers in Oregon, an Airbnb spokesperson said, which complies with the 2019 regulation. The company uses billing zip codes and customer IP addresses to determine s ‘they reside in the state. This means that a Portland resident renting an Airbnb in Manhattan would have their name hidden, for example, while a New Yorker renting accommodation in the Pink City would not.

Anti-discrimination activists have said the Oregon rule could portend a significant change, depending on what Airbnb does next.

“If they take that, they analyze it using The Lighthouse Project, they report those findings to the public, and then consider whether to implement this policy more broadly, which would be worth it. to be praised and applauded, “said Johnny Mathias, senior deputy director of campaigns. for the nonprofit advocacy group Color of Change.

The policy follows years of pressure from campaigners and aggrieved guests, who have shared anecdotes on social media using the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack and who say Airbnb has unwittingly created a new forum for an age-old form of discrimination.

The Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination in public accommodation, which is defined as “any inn, hotel, motel, or other establishment that provides accommodation to passing guests.” But it usually exempts establishments in which the host rents a personal residence.

But Oregon anti-discrimination law applies to “any public accommodation.” It was under this law that a woman from Clackamas County sued Airbnb for discrimination, alleging that the requirement to include a full name and profile photo with a booking request allowed discrimination.

“The effect of Airbnb’s reservation policies is that Airbnb’s public accommodation – its service for providing accommodation to the public, among other things – discriminates against and violates [Oregon law], because Airbnb offers a different service to African Americans than to whites, ”according to a class action lawsuit filed in 2017.

Airbnb said at the time that the lawsuit had no merit, but then agreed to a settlement.

The lawsuit drew on research suggesting that racial associations with certain names can provide a means of bias, even when the discriminated person never comes face to face with the person discriminating against them.

A 2003 experiment by the National Bureau of Economic Research found that resumes with “white sounding” names at the top were more likely to prompt recalls from companies advertising vacancies. Job seekers with white sounding names typically had to submit 10 job applications to get a callback; those with common African-American names were expected to send around 15.

In one study, Harvard Business School researchers sent 6,400 messages to Airbnb hosts in five locations: Washington, DC; Baltimore; Saint Louis; Los Angeles; and Dallas – fake accounts seeking to rent homes under distinctly black and distinctly white names. The study found “widespread discrimination” against black guests by almost all types of hosts.

When asked if the company would consider expanding the policy to other states, an Airbnb spokesperson said, “Since the impact of this change is unknown, the implementation will be limited. She added that the company planned to assess the impact of this change to “understand if there are any lessons from this work that can inform future efforts to address stigma.”

Mathias, the director of Color of Change, said Airbnb is better than its peers at understanding how its platform could be used for the purpose of discrimination.

The big difference between our engagement with Airbnb and our engagement with other companies, he said, “do they often come to us first, before the bad happens, and [say,] “We want to solve this problem. “

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