Studies Show Airbnb Hosts Discriminate Against 'Black-Sounding Names,' But Are We Surprised?
Photo Credit: Yuriko Nakao

Studies Show Airbnb Hosts Discriminate Against 'Black-Sounding Names,' But Are We Surprised?

It could all be so simple, but racism makes it hard.

When it comes to renting homes through Airbnb, minorities, specifically Black people, seem to always be up against refusal of service on the platform. The company has decided to finally somewhat take a stance with an experiment that they hope will resolve the issue.

According to NPR, studies have shown that there are some Airbnb hosts who discriminate against customers based on both profile images and “African American sounding names.” In an effort to fix the issue, the company is starting with a test in the way that Oregon-based guests book their stays.

Trouble In Airbnb Paradise

Just two and a half years ago, Airbnb settled a lawsuit with three Black women who alleged that, in spite of Oregon’s public accommodation laws, the site allowed hosts to discriminate against Black guests by revealing their full names and photos.

“This update is consistent with the voluntary settlement agreement we reached in 2019 with individuals in Oregon who raised concerns regarding the way guests’ names are displayed when they seek to book a listing,” said the company in a statement.

In 2018, Airbnb updated its photo policy and began to wait until a guest was fully booked before sharing their photo with the host. It also left it up to hosts to choose whether to require guest photos or not.

The issues didn’t just start there, in 2016, Harvard Business School conducted a field study on behavioral patterns on the platform which lead to the revelation that guests with “distinctly African-American names are roughly 16% less likely to be accepted than identical guests with distinctively White names.”

At the time, Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky issued an apology to users.

“Bias and discrimination have no place on Airbnb, and we have zero tolerance for them,” said Chesky.

Other updates to the company’s process included the requirement of users to accept a nondiscrimination pledge along with the launch of the Instant Book feature allowing hosts to offer booking of their homes immediately without the prior approval of a specific guest.

The Fix

The property rental company is altering the way that those Oregon-based guests book their stays by removing full names during the booking process thus only allowing hosts to see the potential guest’s initials rather than their full names.

“As a part of our ongoing work, we will take any learnings from this process and use them to inform future efforts to fight bias,” continued the company in the statement.

With the new policy, guests’ full names will be displayed to the host upon completion of the reservation.