Airbnb Change in Guests' profile photo policy welcome--Lawyers' Committee

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Airbnb makes positive change.

By only showing guests’ pictures after a booking is complete, Airbnb has taken an overdue step that will help curb and eliminate pervasive discrimination and implicit bias on its platform. Airbnb is finally learning what many of its peers in the sharing economy have long realized: when profile pictures play a prominent role in the sharing economy, racial bias runs rampant.

We hope that Airbnb's action will prompt further reform across the sharing economy to help eliminate and root out bias that too often impairs opportunities for African Americans and other people of color.

Although Airbnb’s policy change is a positive step, the company must do more to truly advance racial equity. In particular, by conducting matched-pair audit testing of large-scale hosts who rent out many units, Airbnb could decrease the burden on victims of discrimination both to know that they have been victimized and to navigate the company’s complaint process. This kind of testing has been critical to the success of civil rights advocates in rooting out systemic discrimination in the housing, credit, and employment industries.

It is also critical that Airbnb take steps to mitigate the role of widespread whole-home short-term rental activity to help address gentrification and displacement in low-income communities of color.

Airbnb last year in which the company began to experiment with the limited use of guest photos. The Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law is committed to ensuring that the civil rights community’s efforts to combat discrimination evolve alongside new technologies.

The short-term home rental platform’s previous policy of displaying profile pictures throughout the booking process increased the likelihood that hosts would discriminatorily deny lodging to people of color, whether because of racial animus or implicit bias.

In 2016, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law outlined specific actions for Airbnb to take to ensure equal access regardless of race.

Kristen Clarke, President and Executive Director
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law

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