The Real Deal New York

Airbnb hires Eric Holder amid #AirbnbWhileBlack controversy

Short-term rental startup’s consultants lay out anti-discrimination plan
September 08, 2016 02:40PM

Eric Holder

Airbnb has hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to help the company combat accusations that black users are being discriminated against when attempting to book stays.

The controversial startup — which recently redoubled efforts to kill a New York state bill that would levy steep fines on hosts who advertise illegal short-term rentals — became the target of increased criticism after a Harvard University paper in December found that customers with names that “sound black” were 16 percent less likely to book a room than those with names that sound white.

In response, Twitter users bombarded the San Francisco-based tech firm with the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack.

Former American Civil Liberties Union director Laura Murphy, who was hired as a consultant along with Holder, sent an internal report laying out the firm’s plan, the Wall Street Journal reported.

“An increasing number of Airbnb hosts and guests have voiced their concerns about being discriminated against when trying to book a listing because of their race, sexual orientation or gender identity,” Murphy wrote. “This outcry from the community led Airbnb to closely examine their nondiscrimination policies and procedures.”

According to the report, the short-term rental startup will put less focus on users’ photos when they book rooms, require employees to undergo anti-bias training, encourage hosts to use a feature that books rooms instantly and build a team aimed at “promoting diversity,” among other initiatives.

Airbnb raised $850 million in August and is now valued at $30 billion. An analysis by The Real Deal in July showed that the percentage of New York City listings that were booked for more than 180 days (known as commercial listings) climbed from 6.7 percent to 9 percent between June 2015 and June 2016. [WSJ]Rich Bockmann