Checking In: Airbnb’s New Plan To Reduce Racism

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By Darion Curtis

  • AirBnb launched an experiment in Oregon that will show only the first initial of a potential guest’s name until a booking is confirmed to combat racism
  • In 2019, Three African-Americans sued Airbnb alleging it allowed discrimination on the basis of race

The online lodging giant Airbnb (ABNB -0.80%) has launched an experiment in Oregon that will show only the first initial of a potential guest’s name until a booking is confirmed. Quite a daring move for a company who has been plagued with racist claims since early 2016, along with a lawsuit from 3 African-Americans. For a company with a $99 billion market cap and a complicated race-based rental history, will this experiment help eradicate racism on its platform?

Why This Matters: This experiment follows a 2019 lawsuit where 3 African-Americans alleged Airbnb allowed discrimination on the basis of race. The company immediately moved to launch a June 2020 research project called Project Lighthouse, aimed at uncovering discrimination across its platform. A hashtag where Twitter users can share their experiences (#AirbnbWhileBlack) has highlighted the inequities Black users experience.  

It saw the online marketplace partner with organizations such as Asian Americans Advancing Justice (AAJC), Center for Democracy & Technology, Color of Change, and the NAACP to form an anti-discrminiation group. This independent, third party group researches guests by first name and profile photo, shares their perceptions of the profile-photo combination, with a team at AirBnb, and those profiles are used to determine if reservations are being declined.

It must be noted that Project Lighthouse can be opted-out of by AirBnb users in their privacy settings. Since the data collected is confidential, one can only conclude Project Lighthouse is a catalyst of the Oregon experiment, coincidentally the same state where the 2019 lawsuit was filed.

Situational Awareness: Will this experiment stop a host from deducing your race based off of your name and immediately canceling your reservation? “Hosts will start seeing an Oregon guest’s initials in place of the guest’s first name until a booking request is confirmed. After a booking is confirmed, the guest’s name will appear. This change will be fully implemented by January 31, 2022 and in effect for at least two years,” according to an AirBnb statement. It’s not exactly a Negro Motorist Green Book, but it seems AirBnb is at least putting a foot in the right direction on discrimination.

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CONTRIBUTOR

Darion Curtis

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