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Focus Friday: Airbnb anti-discrimination rules

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The short-term home-renting website is finally adding rules to fight discrimination after being scrutinized for allowing users to deny applicants based on things like race and gender.

While the new rules will not get rid of renters’ profile pictures, they will minimize their size so homeowners can focus on the information and not appearance of prospective tenants.

What do you think about the new rules that will be implemented by November?

[tabgroup][tab title=”Odus Evbagharu”]

Opinion columnist Odus Evbagharu

Airbnb is taking the necessary first steps in addressing their discrimination problem that a Harvard University study had exposed.

They may be taking little steps, but they are starting somewhere. They’re putting in an accelerated booking process where you don’t necessarily need the approval of the owner and are, somewhat, eliminating photos from profiles.

These steps were necessary because the Harvard study had way too many firsthand accounts of discrimination from Airbnb guests, which were mostly based on their names rather than the content of their character. This was a problem as well because the company was facing lawsuits.

It’s a great thing the company reached out to Eric Holder, the former U.S. attorney general, and others to help with the situation. The company will benefit in the long run, as long as they continually find ways to better their anti-bias policies.

[/tab][tab title=”Thom Dwyer”]

Assistant opinion editor Thom Dwyer

As Din from Chicago so aptly commented below the story, “It’s my apartment. I pick who can stay for a few days. It is not a housing market.”

Airbnb is really trying to fight that basic principle.

People take their possessions seriously, especially when it’s property rented out to people they have never met before. Besides an in-app rating system, there is no way to positively determine the caliber of a potential guest without using gut feelings that can open the door to discrimination based on gender, age, race, etc.

As for instant booking, that makes sense since it is reserved for those who already have a good track record as guests.

No matter what Airbnb does, people are still going to find a way to only rent their property to whoever they want to. People are still going to blame Airbnb for discrimination practiced by those that it cannot control.

[/tab][tab title=”Praneeth Kambhampati”]

Opinion columnist Praneeth Kambhampati

Airbnb’s new policies to combat discrimination is overdue. These policies include instant bookings which stops the host from rejecting potential customers based on any personal characteristics.

In 32 pages, the company detailed a plan to limit and erase bias in the process, saying, “Bias and discrimination have no place on Airbnb, and we have zero tolerance for them”.

Equal opportunities for housing independent of race, religion, gender, ethnicity, age and disability is an integral tenet of society today.  The Fair Housing Act protects against such discrimination.

Current law then supports their decision to protect consumers from discrimination. This protection comes in the form of new policies that will be enacted Nov. 1.

[/tab][tab title=”Marialuisa Rincon”]

Opinion columnist Marialuisa Rincon

To be honest, I was really surprised when I learned that Airbnb — indirectly — allowed discrimination anyway. With this decision, I think they’re absolutely taking a step forward.

That being said, I don’t think user profiles should be muted nor should pictures be made less prominent. I have never posted on Airbnb, but I have a feeling that if I was allowing someone to stay in my home, I would want to know something about them.

You don’t want a serial killer casually staying at your house.

What the company should do is not only make it hard for bigots to conduct business on the site (bigotry will find its way into any system, no matter what the rules say), but enact a no-strike rule. If a host can’t prove that he or she had a valid reason to deny someone a stay at your Airbnb, they should be automatically banned.


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