Airbnb Announces New Push to Fight Discrimination Among Hosts and Guests

by Gordon Gottsegen
June 15, 2020
Photo: Shutterstock

It’s one thing to fight racial discrimination within your company. But if you’re a company like Airbnb with over 150 million users, it’s important to make sure you don’t provide a platform for racial discrimination either.

On Monday, Airbnb announced its Project Lighthouse initiative, which aims to identify and address discrimination on the company’s platform.

There have been a few horror stories over the years about Airbnb hosts engaging in racist behavior by kicking out minority guests during their stay or refusing to let them book listings. Airbnb punishes this behavior when it happens — the company has reportedly removed 1.3 million people from its platform since 2016 for refusing to treat others without bias — but Project Lighthouse aims to prevent this from happening in the first place.

The initiative will collect and analyze data on how its users’ “perceived race” — indicated by information like profile photos and names — affects their interactions with the platform all the way from the booking process to the reviews they write and receive. Based on what the research shows, the company plans to take additional action to address the problem.

The company has partnered with several civil rights groups to create this project, including Asian American Advancing Justice, Color of Change, LULAC, Upturn and more.

Since the initiative will use personal information for its research, it’ll also give users the ability to opt out. The company says that it will not associate perceived race information to specific accounts, and it has partnered with the Center for Democracy and Technology to ensure user privacy.

Addressing racial inequality is on the top of mind for many companies right now, but Project Lighthouse has been in the works for nearly two years. Originally, the initiative was slated for a late 2020 release, but it’ll be rolled out sooner due to its importance and timeliness. It is slated to launch by June 30 for U.S.-based hosts and guests.

Airbnb has taken steps to combat discrimination in the past. As of 2018, it hides users’ profile pictures until after the booking request is accepted. It also has a dedicated anti-discrimination team and makes users sign its non-discrimination policy before using its service.

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