Airbnb Unveils Changes To Address Racial Discrimination

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Acknowledging that his company has "been slow on this issue," Airbnb CEO and co-founder Brian Chesky is rolling out changes aimed at addressing discrimination complaints against the home rental service. Among the changes: de-emphasizing the role of user photos in arranging stays.

The move comes after longstanding complaints from African-American Airbnb customers who said their booking requests were turned down at a high rate.

Here are some of the other changes Airbnb announced Thursday:

  • Providing assistance to people who feel they've experienced discrimination;
  • Anti-bias training for all staff;
  • Setting public diversity goals for staff;
  • Partnering with historically black colleges and universities to strengthen their recruitment pipeline.

As NPR's Code Switch and Hidden Brain teams reported earlier this year, the sharing economy that's often lauded for connecting regular people has also opened new areas of potential discrimination, especially on services that highlight users' photos and names — two cues to their ethnicity.

Black Airbnb users vented their frustration with the phenomenon of being rejected for a booking date — only to see the same place get listed once again — spawning the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack on Twitter. And those frustrations were borne out in a study that sent 6,400 requests to AirBnb hosts in five large U.S. cities; the requests were identical except for the customer's name. As the Hidden Brain podcast reported, "requests with African-American sounding names were roughly 16 percent less likely to be accepted than their white-sounding counterparts."

One of the groups that was critical of Airbnb is Color of Change. Today, the group's executive director, Rashad Robinson, had this to say:

"Airbnb's announcement shows how organized Black communities can hold multi-billion-dollar companies accountable and influence them to take definitive steps to end discriminatory practices and set new standards for diversity."

In recent years, studies also found racial disparities in how hosts profit from Airbnb, including two separate studies from Harvard researchers that found black and Asian hosts earn significantly less than their white counterparts.

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