Airbnb has recently come under fire due to the alleged discrimination of African-American users on its website. The online rental marketplace allows guests to search for short-term rentals from hosts looking to rent out unneeded space. A major flaw in this system was first brought to light in December when a Harvard University paper concluded that African-American users found it more difficult to rent a space if they possessed a name that sounded distinctly African-American. Some African-American people took to social media to post their claims that they had also been discriminated against due to their race.
For example, in June, Gregory Selden filed a class-action discrimination suit against Airbnb, alleging that the company had violated his civil rights when a host rejected him on the basis that he was African-American.
Airbnb surely does not wish to allow civil rights violations to exist within its application. Besides being ethically wrong, every guest discriminated against due to his or her race is another instance where Airbnb loses customers and potential profit.
It is important to note that as a company, Airbnb, may not necessarily be discriminatory. Instead, it has allowed users to be discriminatory. Nevertheless, Airbnb has a corporate responsibility to ensure that its website does not facilitate discrimination.
Thus, it is expected that Airbnb would alter the design of its application in order to right the wrongs that have been committed. On Thursday, Sept. 15, Airbnb announced that by November, hosts would be required to agree to a newly instated nondiscrimination policy. In order to reduce the chances of guests being discriminated against based on race or gender, the company announced that it would lessen the prominence of guest-submitted photographs.
Perhaps the most controversial change is that Airbnb said that it would move to hasten the use of instant bookings. Instant bookings allow guests to book living spaces without the host’s approval, making it impossible for guests to be discriminated against by hosts. This would also make it difficult for hosts to reject potential guests based on nondiscriminatory reasoning, such as personal reasons or if there are any unexpected health issues.
The aforementioned issue is minuscule in the grand scheme of things. No company, especially one that is valued at tens of billions of dollars and one that maintains a large influence in the corporate realm, should turn a blind eye to discrimination. Airbnb is certainly a trendsetter in the world of online rental marketplaces, and perhaps the most reliable and reputable in the entire industry. If Airbnb did not take the measures that it did to halt discrimination, it would be an issue of immorality.
Other businesses need to take a close look at the methods that Airbnb utilized to solve an issue that was not directly its fault. Let Airbnb’s actions be a lesson to both small and large companies that may be faced with accusations of racism or other civil rights violations within their user base. A discrimination lawsuit does not necessarily spell the end of a company if the company acts swiftly, methodically and transparently.
By publicizing the steps that the company is taking to squash future discrimination, Airbnb has not only secured the increase of its future profits, but also gained public approval. In fact, the company has the potential to win over segments of the public that were not even Airbnb customers prior to the discrimination lawsuits.
In order to ensure future success, Airbnb must follow through with its promises to eradicate discrimination within its user base, as well as with the methods it promises to put in place later in the year. Once the changes are put in place and quantifiable change is made, Airbnb must then publicize those changes in order to solidify its image in the public as a socially-aware company.