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Airbnb thinks it has the answer to its racism problem

Airbnb issued its comprehensive report on racial prejudice on its service, and outlined a variety of changes to the service that it plans to make.
(AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Airbnb took a public beating earlier this year from users who shared experiences of racism on the short-term home rental service under the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack. On Thursday, Airbnb issued its comprehensive report on racial prejudice on the platform, and outlined a variety of changes to the service that it plans to make.

When those allegations first became a public issue last spring, legal experts suggested that the sharing economy in general — although especially Airbnb — could be running afoul of civil rights laws. In response, Airbnb quickly brought in some big guns from the civil rights world, such as former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and ex-ACLU Washington chief Laura Murphy, and convened a task force to get to work on the issue.


Organizations that Airbnb consulted as part of its plan include the NAACP, the Center for American Progress, the Congressional Black Caucus, the National Urban League and around a dozen other left-leaning group.

In the 32-page report dropped today, authored by Murphy, the company announced a sweeping set of changes designed to mitigate discrimination. They include a new, firmer non-discrimination policy; promoting "Instant Book" listings that don't require host approval; reducing the prominence of guest photos; and hiring a "permanent, full-time product team to fight bias and promote diversity."

Though Airbnb didn't accept all of the anti-discrimination working group's recommendations, organizations that Airbnb consulted on the process seem pleased with the outcome. In an emailed statement, Rashad Robinson, executive director of the civil rights advocacy group Color of Change, said that "Airbnb has made substantive policy changes in response to our demands.

"Color Of Change has been working to move the company towards these changes for a couple of years now, and we and others in the racial justice community will be closely monitoring this effort to gage whether it brings an end to the dehumanizing treatment many people of color have experienced," Robinson said. "We will continue to advocate for additional efforts if needed."

Though it remains to be seen if these changes will sufficiently move the needle on the discrimination people of color face on Airbnb, civil rights groups seem satisfied, for now. Elsewhere, however, Airbnb still has fires to put out.

In New York, the company has threatened to sue the state government should Governor Andrew Cuomo sign into law a bill that outlaws advertising illegal short-term rentals, including those on Airbnb's platform. And earlier this month, Airbnb sued the city of Santa Monica (the third city it's suing in California) over short-term rental regulations.