August 8, 2016
You may have heard recently that there’s a problem with racism on Airbnb. Screenshots of racist epithets, and other experiences collected under#AirbnbWhileBlack, have revealed a few of the platform’s hosts to be angry bigots. Beyond that, there is strong evidence that black guests are being rejected, because they are black, even by outwardly well-mannered hosts. A Harvard study from January of this year found that guests with black-sounding names got rejected from many listings where people with identical profiles, but a white-sounding name, got accepted. The company appears determined to really do something about this. Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky wrote recently that Airbnb “will not simply ‘address the issue’ by doing the least required for liability and PR purposes. I want us to be smart and innovative and to create new tools to prevent discrimination and bias that can be shared across the industry.” There are concrete signs of progress: High powered experts (including a longtime ACLU executive, and former Attorney General Eric Holder), retained by the company, have been meeting with a broad spectrum of civil rights and activist groups. I work at Upturn, where we’ve been thinking a lot about how data science can be used to fight discrimination. Honestly, I found the end of Chesky’s post —where he calls for building new tools to fight discrimination across the sharing economy—thrilling. But this past weekend gave me a totally different perspective….