Online room-letting site Airbnb has announced a new policy aimed at tackling the reports that hosts were discriminating against black people.
When the Twitter hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack emerged last year, an increasing amount of users shared their stories of being racially discriminated by white people on the website, which was met by disheartening reply from the billion-pound company that this was actually helping incorporate more black neighbourhoods into its user database.
But the accounts of racial discrimination by hosts on the site was confirmed in a study by Harvard Business School, who found 16% of African-American names were less likely to be accepted for a booking than identical guests with distinctive white names.
After creating 20 identical Airbnb profiles, all with different names – 10 with names that would make you believe they are white and 10 with names that suggest they are black – and with no photos, the researchers attempted to book rentals in various locations in the US. They also found that African-Americans that used the site earnt less than their white counterparts.
To tackle the racism issue, the accommodation site have introduced the new policy which includes moves to de-emphasise the use of photos, the introduction of new booking systems and an anti-discrimination agreement for users to sign.
Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky sent an email to hosts and users outlining the main movements developed from the review, highlighting that users should feel part of a community and “a place where you can belong.”
Mr Chesky recognised that discrimination within the company should have been addressed sooner and sent an apology to recipients, explaining that any existence of discrimination “jeopardizes” the core mission of the platform.
He said: “I take responsibility for any pain or frustration this has caused members of our community. We will not only make this right; we will work to set an example that other companies can follow.”
Airbnb have introduced a ‘Community Commitment’ that will begin in November, asking everyone who uses the site to agree to a strengthened and detailed non-discrimination policy which says: “By joining this community, you commit to treat all fellow members of this community, regardless of race, religion, national origin, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age, with respect, and without judgment or bias”.
Next month, another new policy ‘Open Doors’ will be implemented to ensure any guests that experience discrimination, either in trying to book a listing or an interaction with a host, the company will find them a similar place to stay.
Airbnb also said any guest who had been discriminated against in the past will be offered booing assistance for their next trip. ‘Instant Book’ will also be introduced, which allows hosts to offer their home to be booking straight away, without their approval of a guest.
Laura Murphy, the former head of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington D.C. Legislative Office, led the report.
In regards to the suggestion of taking down pictures of users, she said: “Technology can bring us together and technology shouldn’t ask us to hide who we are.
“Instead, we should be implementing new, creative solutions to fight discrimination and promote understanding. I believe the various policy changes outlined in this report meet that goal.”
In the report, Ms Murphy highlighted how fighting discrimination is fundamental to Airbnb’s mission.
She added: “Fighting discrimination and bias is difficult and while these policy, product, and operational changes are a strong step in the right direction, achieving the goals outlined in this report will require constant vigilance and ongoing work.”