Imagine preparing for your summer trip. You’re picturing a nice time soaking up rays on the beach. Dinners at your favorite vacation restaurant are making your tummy grumble. You just have to book that Airbnb, and it’s game on. But if you’re black, the seemingly simple process of booking those lodgings may be a bit more difficult than for others.
Facing complaints of racial bias from its users, lodging website Airbnb says it is planning a “comprehensive review” of the ways that private citizens renting their homes through the platform might discriminate against their prospective guests. Airbnb, in a memo it planned on sending to concerned users Thursday, says that it will look into the matter over the next several months to see how hosts and guests interact with one another on the site. The former head of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington office will act as a paid adviser on the review. Findings should be announced in September.
“We can't control all the biases of all of our users, but we want to make clear that discrimination is against everything we stand for,” an Airbnb spokesperson told the Washington Post in a statement.
A North Carolina host was recently banned for life from the site after sending racist messages to a college student looking for a temporary stay in Charlotte. He told her he planned on cancelling her stay with him and repeatedly used the N-word during the exchange.
The discrimination was not an isolated incident, and users have even begun using the hashtag “#airbnbwhileblack” when they faced with such difficulties. Last year, researchers at the Harvard Business School studied Airbnb and found that renters on the platform were more likely to face discrimination in one form or another if they had distinctly black names, such as “Tamika vs. Laurie, Darnell vs. Brad,” etc. Racial name bias is seen in other corners of modern life as well: taxi tips, job callbacks, good rates on classified ads and even eBay sales, according to the Post.
The Harvard findings included some potential solutions. For Airbnb specifically, one researcher said that there are several easy fixes that could help alleviate the problem. The platform could downplay the use of photos and names, increase “instant bookings” to eliminate back-and-forth exchanges and prominently display anti-discrimination language for homeowners.