Airbnb Reviews From Hosts
This Series explores surveillance and its intersection with race and ceremonious rights. made possible with support from Columbia University’southward Ira A. Lipman Center.
Ashley couldn’t believe what she was reading. After she’d booked an Airbnb for a forthcoming trip to Ohio to visit family unit, the company emailed her in September to tell her she was no longer eligible to employ the platform equally either a host or a invitee. The decision, the company said, was due to a third-party evaluation that had detected a criminal record.
The email confused Ashley. “I was like, wait, I don’t have a criminal background,” she said. But when she received and reviewed the evaluation, she realized what had caused the ban. In 2013, Ashley, who is Black, had been reprimanded past a police officer afterward her dog escaped her house. The local constabulary was that dogs must exist registered and leashed, and Ashley’southward dog was neither, so she paid a fine. She had signed something quickly from the officer at the scene, and didn’t realize at the time that she had received 2 misdemeanors. “I thought information technology was a ticket,” she said.
Ashley had long since forgotten the incident every bit she moved to Chandler, Arizona, and went on to piece of work for fiscal institutions and even receive security clearance at the Census Agency. Now 32, she works a job in the IT department at a biomedical engineering business firm. None of her employers had seen her domestic dog-related incident every bit a problem. “This has never popped up as any kind of effect,” she said.
She has also received positive reviews from her Airbnb hosts when she used the platform in the past. “Ashley was a great invitee! We would exist happy to host her over again,” one host wrote.
On Airbnb’s website, Ashley read that she could apply for reinstatement based on “a rigorous, evidence-based approach” that reviewed outside factors like an individual’southward age at the fourth dimension of the incident, subsequent run-ins with the police, and employment history. She emailed Airbnb dorsum asking for a second look, but Airbnb simply told her to address “inaccurate” information with a third-party visitor called Inflection, which had run her information through its SafeDecision API, an automated groundwork check service. The information in the groundwork bank check was accurate, however—just not that big a deal. Ashley tried to reason with Airbnb.
“This happened 10 yr ago. It was related to my canis familiaris being off leash. Surely this falls under circumstances where I’d be reinstated?” she wrote to Airbnb.
Within a few hours, she received a reply.
“Nosotros’ve given your case and its details careful consideration and we determined that it won’t exist possible to reactivate your account at this time,” an Airbnb representative wrote to her. “We understand that this might not exist what you’d hoped for, but we came to this consequence to safeguard the customs and protect our policy. Our review is complete now, and we won’t be able to offer additional support on this case at this time.”
Since 2013, as part of what it claims to exist an effort to keep guests and hosts safe, Airbnb has had a third-political party service perform automated groundwork checks on hosts and guests alike in the U.S. But every bit Ashley’s case shows, the prospect of reviewing the backgrounds of millions of people accurately, adequately, and expeditiously tin be a difficult and maybe impossible proposition for a tech platform.
Afterwards Motherboard brought Ashley’due south case to Airbnb’s attention, the company reviewed her appeal in one case more, this time determining that information technology was the wrong decision and she should exist reinstated.
“Nosotros regret that this happened and appreciate your patience through this procedure,” a visitor representative told Ashley over email on Thursday.
Criminal records accept long had a stigmatizing effect, limiting people’s ability to go on a job and lead a decent life, according to Amy Shlosberg, an associate professor of criminology and chair of the Section of Criminology and Criminal Justice at Fairleigh Dickinson University.
But as more industries that fulfill bones needs—housing, jobs, healthcare—turn to algorithms to uphold standards of safety and make up one’s mind who is eligible to use them, the consequences of a criminal record are now expanding from housing and job applications out into private’s social and private lives, “hindering their ability to savor the opportunities afforded by mod-twenty-four hours order, such as short-term homestays and vacation rentals,” Shlosberg said.
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Airbnb says it understands its system’south flaws. “Nosotros know that no background cheque system is perfect,” the company told Motherboard—and that it tries to continually brand the system “as effective and thoughtful as possible.” Airbnb has stated, for example, that disorderly bear and marijuana possession are two offenses it does not consider worthy of removal, and that the company considers “evidence of rehabilitation” during the appeals procedure. The visitor also reviews published research and works with criminal justice experts, academics, and advocates to improve its policy and appeals process, information technology says.
Airbnb does not perform the checks itself. Since 2016, those accept been done by a company called Inflection, which claims on its site to consummate more than than 1 million background checks per month at a speed of less than 0.3 seconds on boilerplate. (The company did not answer to multiple requests for comment.) Such speed may be efficient considering Airbnb’s size—the site has 6 one thousand thousand agile listings—merely it also makes mistakes an inevitability.
When users mutter most factual inaccuracies or mistaken identities in the reports, Airbnb says it cannot alter the contents of the study and directs them to “initiate whatever dispute process, as needed” with Inflection, which notifies Airbnb if annihilation needs to exist corrected. Simply the company also tells banned guests that Inflection can only “correct” errors, and “took no part in making the determination to decline your application and cannot explicate why the determination was made.”
How often such mistakes occur is hard to say with confidence. Airbnb would not tell Motherboard how many of its hosts and guests have had their backgrounds checked, but maxim that the rate at which the checks occur has not increased recently and was “in no way tied” to the company’s new “anti-party technology” tests.
Simply in early September, Airbnb faced growing criticism for its banning process after Bethany Hallam, a councilperson at-large in Pennsylvania’s Allegheny County, was removed from the platform every bit a result of a years-old misdemeanor. After the case gained national attention, she was subsequently reinstated.
“I cannot begin to cover why they exercise non have a way to talk to a live person in real fourth dimension about why these minor incidents of my past are suddenly well-nigh to bankrupt me.”
Airbnb told Motherboard that when a written report’southward accurateness is not in question, only the decision on which it is based, people can entreatment directly to Airbnb, But the people who spoke with Motherboard for this story said that appealing to Airbnb seemed to do little to assist their cases. It was apparently merely after Airbnb learned that these cases would be covered by Motherboard that information technology was moved to farther investigate.
In the instance of Ashley’s dogs—and that of others—the bachelor avenues left her with nowhere to turn. Where did she go to just inquire a human being to be reasonable? When she was still lonely, the respond was nowhere.
“Until an official dispute has been resolved with the consumer reporting bureau, nosotros consider our decision final,” Airbnb told her.
That is, until it wasn’t.
Earlier his ban, Steven had been a “superhost.” For nearly a twelvemonth, the 30-something Information technology professional person had been advisedly edifice upwards his reputation on the platform by hosting people in the Southeast U.S. Self-described equally Airbnb’s “biggest fan,” he had encouraged everyone he knew with rental properties to endeavour hosting on the platform.
And then, in August, he received an e-mail from Airbnb stating that he was banned from the platform due to a “criminal records match.” All of his pending guest bookings were immediately canceled, meaning he had lost hundreds of dollars the second Airbnb made its determination, and stood to lose many thousands more in the years ahead.
“This whole state of affairs has been a huge slap in the face,” he told Motherboard. “I’ve made a large investment in starting this business organisation and I cannot brainstorm to comprehend why they do non have a fashion to talk to a live person in real time nigh why these small-scale incidents of my past are suddenly almost to broke me.”
The email from Airbnb said that he should asking the records from Inflection. The records he received, and which Motherboard reviewed, revealed three misdemeanors. Two of these–a public intoxication accuse and a first-offense DWI–stemmed from incidents nearly 10 years ago, which Steven said was a result of a bad interaction with medication in his 20s that his physician has since fixed. The third was a traffic violation for a missing tail light.
The link that Airbnb sent him to appeal the decision, he said, didn’t work. So he wrote to Airbnb directly. “I’ve spent a lot of money and try starting and maintaining an Airbnb unit and strive to provide each guest top notch amenities in an unique setting that no hotel or cookie cutter rental could provide,” he wrote in respond to Airbnb’s message informing him of the ban. “My reviews reflect this effort and show that my hard piece of work provided every guest with a memorable experience that strengthened Airbnbs reputation.”
After multiple emails with Airbnb support, including Airbnb forwarding his instance to another “specialized” support team, the company finally informed him on September 17 that his business relationship would not be reinstated.
“The evasiveness of back up to explain what happened or give any kind of recourse other than having these quondam misdemeanors removed from my record is beyond frustrating,” Steven told Motherboard.
Lack of human interaction is a recurring frustration for people de-platformed by companies online, including social platforms similar Twitter and Facebook. In the example of such bans, Airbnb appears no different. Everyone we spoke to for this story reported that reaching out to support resulted in a game of rote, generic letters that did footling to help their situations.
In Steven’s case, Airbnb only “overturned” the decision subsequently Motherboard reached out to enquire about the particulars of his case. Separately, a representative of Airbnb reached out to Steven to repent.
“I’m Thirty with Airbnb,” the email read (it actually said “Thirty”). “As a goodwill gesture, we take issued y’all a payout of $ane,366.07 for compensate for the 4 payouts that you did non receive.”
Airbnb has tried making short-term rentals as condom as possible for guests and hosts akin for years at present. But the bug the company faces have been articulate at least since 2011, when CEO Brian Chesky wrote an apology after a host’s home was vandalized by a guest. Every year, the visitor reportedly fields thousands of sexual assault allegations, many of them involving rape, and a 2019 mass shooting led the company to take a hardline opinion against parties.
Schlosberg said that while screening hosts and guests is of import for safety, these background checks should not exist applied also broadly and that after v years a criminal record should “no longer be relevant in most situations.”
“Whether an individual had a misdemeanor or non-violent felony should not be relevant in this situation,” she said. “I would even fence that a blanket statement prohibiting a violent felony background would exist as well expansive. I take worked with many formerly incarcerated people whose background on paper would probable cause alarm but are people I would open my home to without hesitation.” Instead of relying on 1 groundwork bank check service—in Airbnb’s case, Inflection—companies could gather information using a most holistic approach, she said, from other sources or databases.
If Airbnb is banning people for minor infractions and misdemeanors, these policies are probable impacting Black people, ethnic people, and other people of color disproportionately. These groups are more likely to exist targeted past police and charged with misdemeanors, and then much so that some offices are experimenting with removing racial information from law reports earlier prosecutors can come across them. Studies have also shown that Airbnb has a long history of enabling discrimination confronting disabled people, and sexual practice workers take reported for years that the visitor discriminates against them because of their work and other social media profiles, and not because of any terms they’ve violated on the rental platform itself.
Airbnb claims it is trying to create an empathetic system past considering racially asymmetric arrest rates, individual rehabilitation efforts, and the time since the crimes in question. While the ideal of a nuanced, anti-discriminatory background check is perhaps something worth striving for, the Kafkaesque nature of the process as it stands now can prove inexplainable and infuriating even when the appeal procedure proves successful.
Zach Nusbaum, who is serving active duty in the Air Force and stationed in Deutschland, was trying to make reservations for himself and his wife on Airbnb in Baronial when he found that he wasn’t able to do and then. He contacted support and received a response which referred to a previous message the platform claimed to have sent in August, which he says he never received.
After, he received a bulletin saying that there had been an outcome with his “consumer report,” and that he could initiate a dispute. “If you cull to dispute any of the data in the report, y’all can access your consumer report details and initiate the dispute process on the Inflection SafeDecision API site,” Airbnb told Nusbaum, using the same average language information technology had with Ashley to announce that its decision was final. Information technology included a link to the Airbnb page about background checks, which does not contain information well-nigh filing disputes.
Nusbaum replied to Airbnb’s message, asking for more clarity. Then, an email from Airbnb on September twenty informed Nusbaum that he was banned after review. “Upholding the policies and standards that protect our community is very important to us. We’ve given your case and its details careful consideration and we determined that it won’t be possible to reactivate your business relationship at this time,” that bulletin said. Like the others, it directed him to dispute it with Inflection.
Nusbaum hadn’t yet disputed anything, when on September 20, he received another bulletin from Airbnb support, seemingly out of nowhere and unprompted by him: “Thanks for your patience. You now should be able to log in and access your business relationship as usual.”
The unabridged feel was baffling to Nusbaum—why had he been banned in the first identify? And perchance merely as strangely, why had he been unbanned? And by who? “There’s no mode to physically talk to a person, just have to continue to email and wait for a response (averaging at to the lowest degree two days betwixt responses),” Nusbaum told Motherboard. “Even so accept no idea what caused it, what the study said, why I was restricted—or anything.”
Many platforms have confusing moderation practices that are overzealous in the name of safety. Just on Airbnb, this process is all the more frustrating given that users regularly spend thousands of dollars in a single transaction, significant real money can get lost in the shuffle of electronic mail conversations with one-name, highly automated Airbnb representatives.
Earlier this twelvemonth, Zac Smith booked a honeymoon trip through Airbnb for the kickoff weekend in September. Smith, who runs a cannabis genetics visitor and works at an after-school program for simple school students in Washington, had been a frequent user of the platform for years, ofttimes receiving five-star reviews from hosts who said he was a standout guest. (“I highly recommend him to all hosts as he left everything in excellent shape and was the perfect guest. 5 stars!!!!”” one host wrote.)
Only about a month before the honeymoon trip, he received an email from Airbnb notifying him he had been banned from the platform and that a refund would be processed. The 37-year-onetime Smith had had a number of run-ins with the law in the by, which showed up on Inflection’s study. All but one of the offenses listed on had since been dismissed, but the one that hadn’t was for the possession of a controlled substance without a prescription.
“If y’all accept any upcoming reservations, they’ll be canceled for a total refund,” Airbnb told him in an electronic mail. But that wasn’t the case. Only $24.10 was returned to Smith, and well-nigh $300, he estimates, was stuck inside his now-unusable Airbnb account in the form of gift cards and coupons. It was a significant amount of coin to him, and he reached out asking what he should exercise.
“How do I get this refunded or transferred to another Airbnb account?” he said. An Airbnb representative responded unhelpfully. “Until an official dispute has been resolved with the consumer reporting agency, we consider our decision final,” the representative replied.
“But y’all guys refunded me in credits that I tin can not utilize? I want my money back or transferred to another Airbnb account in my family. I have $300 in credits that have been refunded to me,” Smith replied once more.
He was angry, not but considering Airbnb had kicked him off and kept his coin, but considering they wouldn’t requite him much of a reason as to why. Possession of the amount of drugs he had been in problem over had since been finer decriminalized in Washington, and Smith hoped to get the felony vacated when he could afford an attorney.
Getting nowhere with Airbnb, Smith contacted Inflection. The company responded shortly afterwards maxim they would non change their position.
“We have re-investigated your records and adamant they are accurately reported. We are able to study not-convictions up to vii years unless expunged or sealed,” the visitor said from a generic customer support email.
Asked about the example, Airbnb confirmed that it had banned Smith for the drug possession conviction and said information technology considered the decision “appropriate,” simply that if Smith appealed one time more the company would “provide the appeal with thoughtful consideration.” Regarding the missing money, an Airbnb representative followed up with Smith to “resolve that issue.”
The question for Smith and the others is whether the organisation would have worked every bit well for them had Motherboard, a national news outlet, not approached the company for comment as part of this story. Had they simply done what they were supposed to exercise, as an unknown number of other people have, would the appeal procedure have worked? Or would an all but anonymous Airbnb representative take denied their asking to continue to host guests, visit family, or even just get their money back?
In whatsoever case, Smith couldn’t assistance but note that as much as it had inconvenienced him, the policy hadn’t worked every bit intended, either. Since the ban, his wife has simply booked the trips instead.
This commodity is part of State of Surveillance, fabricated possible with the support of a grant from Columbia University’s Ira A. Lipman Center for Journalism and Ceremonious and Human Rights in conjunction with Arnold Ventures. The series volition explore the development, deployment, and effects of surveillance and its intersection with race and civil rights.
This article is function of Land of Surveillance, made possible with the support of a grant from Columbia University’s Ira A. Lipman Center for Journalism and Civil and Human Rights in conjunction with Arnold Ventures. The series will explore the evolution, deployment, and effects of surveillance and its intersection with race and ceremonious rights.
Airbnb Reviews From Hosts