Airbnb Responds to Racial Discrimination Lawsuit By Changing Policy In Only One State to Allow Bookers to Conceal Their Full Name and Photo

Airbnb is enacting a policy change as a result of a racial discrimination lawsuit that three Black women have filed against the company.

The vacation rental and activity company settled with plaintiffs Pat Harrington — who died in 2018 — Carlotta Franklin and Ebony Price in 2019 after they “claimed that the website’s requirements for potential renters allowed vacation homeowners to discriminate in violation of Oregon’s public accommodations laws,” which included potential renters being required to use their full names and photos while booking.

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The plaintiffs settled with the company for an undisclosed amount, and beginning Jan. 31 the online lodging marketplace will update its policy for the state of Oregon specifically by removing the requirement for bookers to share their full name until after the booking has been confirmed.

“Today, we are sharing an update to the way we display profile names of guests who are Oregon residents during the booking process. Hosts will start seeing an Oregon guest’s initials in place of the guest’s first name until a booking request is confirmed. After a booking is confirmed, the guest’s name will appear. This change will be fully implemented by January 31, 2022 and in effect for at least two years.”

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

A 2016 Harvard Business Review study found that “requests from guests with distinctively African-American names are roughly 16% less likely to be accepted than identical guests with distinctively White names.” The company has made attempts at course-correcting since then. In 2018, the app changed its policy to allow hosts to not require renter profile photos and noted the images would be displayed only after they accepted a booking.

They also now require users to agree to an Airbnb Community Commitment certifying that will adhere to their nondiscrimination policy, and in 2020 the company launched Project Lighthouse, an initiative focused on “understanding when and how racial discrimination happens on Airbnb.”

Airbnb has not addressed whether there are plans for Oregon’s updated policy to be expanded to more states in the future.

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