May 5, 2016
So many African-American travelers are getting inhospitable treatment in their Airbnb experience that the company should eliminate the use of profile pictures for all of its users, Public Advocate Letitia James said.
James, in a letter to the apartment-sharing website, said she was writing because of the “mounting evidence” that the platform “enables widespread discrimination against hosts and guests based on their race.”
She cited two studies from Harvard Business School professors that found Airbnb users who were black had a hard time either acting as hosts or renting a place.
Among the disturbing findings — non-black hosts earned about 12% more than black hosts and users with “names that are distinctively African-American” tended to get negative reviews.
To help solve the problem, James said Airbnb should dump profile photos and keep user names private until after the money has been exchanged.
Airbnb’s Head of Diversity & Belonging David King acknowledged that “bias and discrimination present significant challenges,” and said they are taking steps to fix the issue.
But the company doesn’t want to remove profile pics, he said.
“Profile photos are an important part of our community and are one of the many tools that help hosts and guests connect with one another,” he said.
Recently, the Twitter hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack has gone viral, with many tweeting stories about being turned away by hosts.
“My friends and are all well-educated, paid, etc., but I’m getting denied solely bc of my name/how I look. That’s hard,” tweeted one user with the handle TinaLaBang.
Another man tweeted, “[I] made a fake profile as a white guy and was accepted immediately.”
James told The News cases like that are why the company needs to change its policies.
“Discrimination has no place in our society,” she said.