Nearly ten months after a Harvard Business School study revealed "widespread discrimination" against guests on the basis of race the short-term rental platform Airbnb, the San Francisco-based company is taking action, saying in a report released Thursday that all users will be required to to agree to a "community commitment" against discrimination based on "race, religion, national origin, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age" as of November 1.
Issues regarding discrimination have plagued the platform for years, with reports of hosts canceling bookings on the basis of guests' orientation and race. The Harvard Business School study, which was published in December of 2015, looked at roughly 6,400 listings between the five cities, and found that if your name sounds "distinctively African-American," you are 16 percent less likely to be accepted as a guest.
According to the New York Times, Airbnb announced Thursday that they will "institute a new nondiscrimination policy that goes beyond what is outlined in several anti-discrimination laws" and "experiment with reducing the prominence of user photos, which have helped signal race and gender."
The company says they will also "accelerate the use of instant bookings, which lets renters book places immediately without host approval." (It's unclear, however, how instant booking use will prevent a racist host from canceling the reservation once they learn more about the guest, as has repeatedly happened in recent high-profile Airbnb discrimination cases.)
Thursday's 32-page discrimination report (you can read it in full here) was complied for Airbnb by Laura Murphy, a former director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Washington legislative office who began work for the rental company in June. But Murphy's new corporate allegiance didn't prevent her from critiquing the company, writing that “There have been too many unacceptable instances of people being discriminated against on the Airbnb platform because of who they are or what they look like.”
As a result of Murphy's findings, reports the Wall Street Journal, Airbnb will also "create a team of engineers, researchers and others devoted to fighting bias and offer sensitivity training to hosts."
They also "said it will guarantee customers lodging if they are found to have been discriminated against, though the specifics of that promise weren’t immediately clear." The company is also promising "new flagging tools so that people can quickly report discrimination or hate speech, which will be "expanded and enhanced by January 2017," TechCrunch reports.
In an email sent to guests and hosts this morning, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky writes that “Discrimination is the opposite of belonging, and its existence on our platform jeopardizes this core mission... Bias and discrimination have no place on Airbnb, and we have zero tolerance for them."
"Unfortunately, we have been slow to address these problems, and for this I am sorry. I take responsibility for any pain or frustration this has caused members of our community. We will not only make this right; we will work to set an example that other companies can follow.”
Murphy's report follows work done by former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, who joined the company in July, and penned their current nondiscrimination policy thereafter.
However, writes Murphy, "These changes are merely a first step."
“Airbnb understands that no one company can eliminate racism and discrimination. Fighting bias is an ongoing task that requires constant vigilance from all of us. And there is no question that we will continue to see examples of bias and discrimination in society, the sharing economy, and Airbnb in the future. As certain product tools are built and implemented, they will need to be refined and updated. The task of fighting discrimination is difficult, but Airbnb is committed to continuing this work in the future, and I will personally hold them to their word. We all should.”