Airbnb has announced a change to the way guest profiles are shown in its app, with an emphasis on Oregon residents. Airbnb hosts in Oregon will now see a potential guest’s initials rather than their complete name until that guest’s booking request has been confirmed. By January 31st, the update will be fully implemented.
According to the company’s release, the modification attempts to avoid racial discrimination among hosts by preventing them from deducing a guest’s race from their name. Airbnb visitors with names that sounded black were 16 percent less likely to have bookings confirmed than guests with names that sounded white, according to a 2016 research.
The announcement comes after Airbnb reached a voluntary settlement agreement with three Portland-area women who sued the firm in 2019. The plaintiffs, who were all African-American, claimed that the platform permitted hosts to discriminate against Black users by asking visitors to add their names and photos to their profiles.
Airbnb announced that it would “examine and alter the way profile names are displayed to hosts as part of the booking process” after reaching a settlement with the plaintiffs.
In the past, the corporation has been outspoken about its support for racial justice. Users must now sign an Airbnb Community Commitment stating that they would not discriminate.
In the summer of 2020, it also started Project Lighthouse, an endeavor to uncover and analyze discrimination on its platform. The company claims it didn’t have a mechanism to track “bigger trends and patterns related to discrimination” across its bookings before launching the initiative.
Guests are not obliged to supply profile photos when using Airbnb (though hosts can require them in order to book their properties). Before bookings are verified, the site has kept guest images hidden from hosts since 2018 (post-lawsuit, pre-settlement). This measure, which is also meant to combat prejudice, has sparked debate among Airbnb users, with some fearing that it may put minority guests in risky circumstances they would otherwise avoid.
One customer bemoaned in the company’s community area, “I’d rather be refused a reservation than beaten or killed!”
But why is this tactic confined to Oregon if the firm expects it to minimize discrimination? When contacted for comment, Airbnb representative Liz De Bold Fusco refused to say whether or not this service will be expanded in the future. “As part of our ongoing work, we will take any learnings from this process and utilize them to influence future efforts to eliminate bias,” Airbnb wrote in its announcement post, according to Fusco. “We will continue to engage with our Hosts and guests, as well as civil rights groups, to make our community more inclusive,” the firm said.