Airbnb is taking steps to protect its customers. Is it enough?

The company’s latest policy changes follow a shooting at a house party in an Airbnb rental

Brian Chesky (Credit: Getty Images)
Brian Chesky (Credit: Getty Images)

On Halloween night, a shooting broke out at a crowded house party in a California property that had been rented on Airbnb.

Five people were killed and several more injured. The owner of the property told the San Francisco Chronicle the woman who rented it said she wanted to host a small family reunion. A spokesperson for Airbnb said the company was “horrified by this tragedy [and] have taken action to ban the booking guest from our platform.”

Since then, the company has taken steps to amp up protections for users on its platform, banning “party houses,” launching a new neighborhood support line, and vowing to verify the seven million listings on its platform. The measures come at a critical time for the company as it seeks to iron out regulatory and safety issues ahead of its anticipated IPO next year.

However, according to the Wall Street Journal, there is a history of tension inside the $31 billion company about how much responsibility to shoulder when things go wrong — an issue that looms large over the wider tech industry.

Back in 2017, employees reportedly floated the idea of requiring users of the platform to supply a government ID—an idea that was rejected by executives, including CEO Brian Chesky, who feared it would deter people from using the platform.

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Chesky’s thinking has perhaps shifted on the matter. After the Halloween shooting, he said Airbnb needed to “take more responsibility for the stuff on our platform. This has been a gradual, maybe too gradual, transition for our industry.”

Margaret Richardson, Airbnb’s vice president of trust, told the Journal that the company is committed to safety, and is working on each issue as they come up.

She said some potential users, including those in developing countries, might not have government IDs, and requiring them would risk alienating such customers. However, she said the company had its own controls for verifying users.

An analysis by the Journal that cross-checked police records with addresses on short-term rental licences found hundreds of instances of crime at these properties, including sexual assaults.

Airbnb said only 0.05% of trips recorded on its platform in the 12 months before July 31 had any reported safety issues.

Airbnb regularly makes out-of-court monetary settlements to resolve complaints from guests and hosts, according to the Journal. In 2017 alone, it settled hundreds of disputes with refunds, credits or cash, sources told the publication. [WSJ]Sylvia Varnham O’Regan

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