Airbnb hides guest names in Oregon to end discrimination

Photo: Joel Saget / AFP (Getty Images)

Airbnb is taking steps to address hostility discrimination on its platform with a new update for guests living in Oregon. Unfortunately, it seems that people in other states and around the world just have to keep fighting to be treated fairly on the platform.

As of January 31, hosts only see the initials of the guests’ first names until they confirm a booking request, Airbnb announced in a December news announcement spotted by the edge. After a host confirms the booking, the guest’s full name will appear. The change in how names are moved will be in effect for at least two years.

“While we have made progress, we have much more to do and continue to work with our hosts, guests, and civil rights leaders to make our community more inclusive,” Airbnb said.

In the announcement, the company said the update is consistent with the voluntary settlement agreement it reached in 2019 with individuals in Oregon “who expressed concerns about the way guests’ names will be displayed when they want to book an advertisement.”

According to the OregonianPortland resident Patricia Harrington filed a lawsuit against Airbnb in 2017. She claimed that because Airbnb requires guests to disclose their full names and include a photo that shows hosts’ reviews before accepting a booking, the company allowed hosts to discriminate against black guests. This was a violation of Oregon’s public lodging laws, she claimed.

Airbnb settled the lawsuit, which involved two more black women in Oregon, in 2019. By then, Harrington had passed away.

The lawsuit’s claims were not wrong. Black guys have been to alarm for years about discrimination on the platform and even created a hashtag: #AirbnbWhileBlack. In 2016, a Harvard Business School study even found that requests from guests with African-American names were about 16% less likely to be accepted by hosts than identical guests with distinctly white names.

That same year, Airbnb executed an agreement to promote equal treatment for its users, stating that all users agreed to treat everyone in the platform’s community “with respect and without judgment or bias.” After the agreement, the company began to hide profile pictures of guests, which are now only revealed after the booking has been confirmed. In 2020 Airbnb told Gizmodo it had banned 1.4 million people from his platform to refuse his non-discrimination agreement.

Discrimination on the platform is not limited for black people, yes. Asians, transgender people, North Africans, Uyghurs and Tibetans have been rejected by hosts in the US and abroad.

Gizmodo reached out to Airbnb on Saturday to ask why this change only applied to Oregon residents. Given what we know, it certainly seems like it could be useful in other areas as well. An Airbnb spokesperson cited the 2019 lawsuit, which we described above.

“As the impact of this change is unknown, implementation will be limited,” Airbnb spokesperson Liz DeBold Fusco said in an email. “We will evaluate the impact of this change to understand if there are lessons learned from this work that could inform future efforts to fight prejudice.”

While I may have been salty above — the world is just, you know, exhausting — this is a positive move from Airbnb. Business may not be moving as fast as we’d like to fight discrimination, but discrimination is a tough problem and creating effective change takes time. The important thing is to keep the work going and get to a point where you proactively fight discrimination, not just because you’ve been charged.

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