Airbnb Action Plan to Eliminate Discrimination: A Good First Step in Eliminating Bias in the Sharing Economy

Housing, Racial Justice

Responding to concerns of discrimination raised by civil rights groups, researchers, and scores of individuals on social media, Airbnb announced today that it would take a number of steps aimed at stamping out discrimination by Airbnb hosts against minority renters.

The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Economic Justice (LCCREJ) is proud to have played a key role in instigating these changes, and we applaud Airbnb’s response as a positive first step towards rectifying discrimination on its platforms. In May 2016, we were the first legal organization to call on federal agencies to investigate and take enforcement action against Airbnb for fostering discrimination by its users against would-be renters of color. We cited academic research showing that users of Airbnb with distinctively African-American sounding names are 16% more likely to be rejected by hosts than users with distinctively White names.  Meanwhile, individuals using the hashtag #airbnbwhileblack took to social media to recount their individual experiences with discrimination on Airbnb.

“Rather than deny or ignore these issues when we raised them, Airbnb to its credit reached out to us to tackle the problem head on,” said Iván Espinoza-Madrigal, Executive Director of LCCREJ. He noted that Airbnb had hired a team led by Laura W. Murphy, which also included former Attorney General Eric Holder, to examine the problem of discrimination by Airbnb hosts and had specifically asked LCCREJ and other civil rights groups for assistance in developing solutions. “The report and action plan issued by Airbnb today are only the beginning, but they commit Airbnb to taking a number of significant steps in the right direction.” He cited such reforms as reducing the prominence of user photos, hiring a dedicated full-time product team to fight bias, and increasing use of “Instant Book,” which is automatic and requires no host approval.

“We will continue to hold Airbnb’s feet to the fire, to make sure that they follow through on their commitments,” said Oren Sellstrom, Director of Litigation at LCCREJ. But these initial steps are very encouraging.” He added that Attorney General Holder and his team had previewed the reforms for LCCREJ at a small, closed-door meeting of civil rights leaders in Washington, D.C. yesterday and had committed to continuing to report on progress towards its goals and to modify reforms as needed.

Aibnb featured the Lawyers’ Committee in connection with its policy changes.