One year ago, Harvard Business School researchers released findings about the home-share rental platform Airbnb—and they weren’t good. The university created Airbnb user profiles under names that are common among African-Americans, and found they were 16 percent less likely to be accepted for a booking. Real Airbnb users of color said they weren’t surprised. Black users shared stories of repeated cancellations and failed booking attempts, using #AirbnbWhileBlack on social media.
Harvard’s researchers called it “widespread discrimination” by Airbnb hosts.
This week, the San Francisco-based company announced an initiative to combat prejudice on the platform. An “Open Doors” policy effective this October requires that all hosts and guests agree to “treat all fellow members of [the Airbnb] community, regardless of race, religion, national origin, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age, with respect, and without judgment or bias.”
Sent in an email to all users, the Airbnb announcement from CEO Brian Chesky apologizes that the company was “slow to address these problems,” and outlines the new efforts the company will take to help those who have experienced discrimination. It also announced efforts to educate hosts and renters about prejudice.
Airbnb now guarantees booking assistance for those who feel they have been discriminated against, including past cases. The company promised that accommodations—Airbnb or otherwise—will be found for anyone who thinks they were subjected to practices that violate the new policy. Airbnb says anti-bias training will also be made available to users and hosts in the future, which they’re currently developing with Harvard University Kennedy School of Government experts.
The company brought on big-name advisers to assist in making these changes, including Laura Murphy, the former head of the American Civil Liberties Union in Washington D.C., and former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder.
Airbnb also announced it will increase the amount of instant bookings on the platform, which allow users to immediately reserve a rental without the host’s personal approval on days that are listed as available to book. Profile photos may also become less prominent, according to Murphy, and references and reviews will be highlighted more eminently.
Airbnb already guarantees host protection insurance that ensures damages and liabilities up to $1 million will be covered by the company.
Chesky said this summer that discrimination on the community platform was his biggest worry, and addressed concerns about the tech company itself not being diverse enough.
“What happens inside the building manifests outside the building,” he said at a tech conference. “There’s no question we are late.”
The question now is if the new changes are better late than never.
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