Scam Listings, Mass Shooting And Hidden Cameras Push Airbnb To ‘Verify’ All 7 Million Of Its Listings—Is That Enough To Ensure Customer Safety?

Vigil for the Airbnb shooting victims in Orinda
MediaNews Group via Getty Images

Last week, VICE published a piece entitled, “I Accidentally Uncovered a Nationwide Scam on Airbnb,” which exposed an ugly problem happening at the home-sharing business. It’s alleged that scammers are cheating and taking advantage of the short-term renters. These unscrupulous people create fake, too-good-to-be-true Airbnb profiles and post inaccurate and misleading listings under false names. It's the old bait-and-switch trick. At the very last minute, the so-called owner contacts the renter and tells them the the place they initially booked is having some issues, but they happen to have another great location as an alternative. The other place turns out to be not as nice—dreadful even—and possibly dangerous. The unpleasant experience is magnified by reports contending that Airbnb is unhelpful in its customers’ pursuit of assistance or refunds.

The home-sharing site has dramatically grown worldwide. Airbnb is valued at $31 billion—an amount higher than the well-established Hilton Hotel chain. Along with this massive growth has come some controversies and problems. Recently, an Airbnb home in Orinda, California, was used as a “party house” on Halloween. Things turned tragic, as a mass shooting ensued. Airbnb reportedly also has a hidden-camera problem. There have been numerous claims made by renters of finding hidden cameras in the homes and apartments at which they’ve stayed.

Airbnb is locked in a number of battles with local municipalities across the country. These disputes involve allegations made by a number of city officials regarding taxes, noncompliance with certain zoning and safety rules and failing to remove illegal listings. Ulrik Binzer, CEO of Host Compliance, which helps cities with rules for short-term rentals, says that Airbnb is locked in “a city-by-city, block-by-block guerrilla war” against local governments.

These and other problems have pushed the company to make a monumental move to review and verify all 7 million of its listings. CEO Brian Chesky said, “We’re going to make sure that we can stand behind every single listing, every single host.” The chief executive called the program the “most significant” change undertaken by Airbnb.

The plan calls for the company to undertake a yearlong project to ensure that all of the homes listed are accurately advertised. “Starting now, verification of all 7 million listings on Airbnb will commence,” Chesky asserted. “We believe that trust on the internet begins with verifying the accuracy of the information on internet platforms, and we believe that this is an important step for our industry."

Interestingly, verification doesn’t necessarily mean that Airbnb will send inspectors to every single home and apartment listed on the site. The verification, according to the company, will be done through a mixture of company and community monitoring. This seems woefully inadequate. How can you tell the real condition of a home if no one actually goes inside and checks? Verifying 7 million rentals is a colossal feat. Statistically, there has to be some big problems lurking around and if nobody is tasked to actually step inside, new issues will surface down the road.

“More than 11 years after Joe, Nate and I started Airbnb, I have been asked what has surprised me most about the world. My answer is two things: that people are, in fact, fundamentally good, and that we are 99% the same,” Chesky said. “We still believe this, and with these changes, we hope to continue to demonstrate this to the world." This is a nice, lofty statement; however, maybe instead of relying upon blind trust, Airbnb should have invested in checking and investing to ensure the safety and quality of the homes listed on its site. Rather than depending on “faith,” examiners should be dispatched to each and every listing to ensure the safety of its customers. 

Fairly recently, a large number of CEOs have been forced to step down due to pressure from the public, media, board of directors and investors. High-profile CEOs of companies such as WeWork, Uber, Nike, Under Armour, Nissan, Boeing’s commercial division and McDonald’s have all been relieved of their responsibilities. They have all been held responsible for things that have occured or actions they’ve taken at their respective companies, which were held up to scrutiny and later decided it was best for a change. In light of this trend, it is surprising that the CEO of Airbnb didn’t take actions sooner. While it’s nice that Chesky is initiating changes in response to these serious problems, there are questions as to why he is not going further. It seems reasonable to require the company to hire the people needed to physically inspect and review each and every listing that is offered on the site. Without an independent army of auditors and examiners inspecting the places, how can Chesky and the company’s customers ever feel fully safe? 

Airbnb plans to go public next year with an initial public offering (IPO). If the company were to invest in a full-scale audit of all 7 million properties listed on the site, the costs will be very substantial. It could be possible that the company would rather not engage in a traditional on-site review to save money, in an effort to make the company’s financial picture look stronger when seeking investors for its upcoming IPO. If this is the case, it’s a sad commentary of another corporation putting profits before the safety of its customers. 

 

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Last week, VICE published a piece entitled, “I Accidentally Uncovered a Nationwide Scam on Airbnb,” which exposed an ugly problem happening at the home-sharing business. It’s alleged that scammers are cheating and taking advantage of the short-term renters. These unscrupulous people create fake, too-good-to-be-true Airbnb profiles and post inaccurate and misleading listings under false names. It's the old bait-and-switch trick. At the very last minute, the so-called owner contacts the renter and tells them the the place they initially booked is having some issues, but they happen to have another great location as an alternative. The other place turns out to be not as nice—dreadful even—and possibly dangerous. The unpleasant experience is magnified by reports contending that Airbnb is unhelpful in its customers’ pursuit of assistance or refunds.

The home-sharing site has dramatically grown worldwide. Airbnb is valued at $31 billion—an amount higher than the well-established Hilton Hotel chain. Along with this massive growth has come some controversies and problems. Recently, an Airbnb home in Orinda, California, was used as a “party house” on Halloween. Things turned tragic, as a mass shooting ensued. Airbnb reportedly also has a hidden-camera problem. There have been numerous claims made by renters of finding hidden cameras in the homes and apartments at which they’ve stayed.

Airbnb is locked in a number of battles with local municipalities across the country. These disputes involve allegations made by a number of city officials regarding taxes, noncompliance with certain zoning and safety rules and failing to remove illegal listings. Ulrik Binzer, CEO of Host Compliance, which helps cities with rules for short-term rentals, says that Airbnb is locked in “a city-by-city, block-by-block guerrilla war” against local governments.

These and other problems have pushed the company to make a monumental move to review and verify all 7 million of its listings. CEO Brian Chesky said, “We’re going to make sure that we can stand behind every single listing, every single host.” The chief executive called the program the “most significant” change undertaken by Airbnb.

The plan calls for the company to undertake a yearlong project to ensure that all of the homes listed are accurately advertised. “Starting now, verification of all 7 million listings on Airbnb will commence,” Chesky asserted. “We believe that trust on the internet begins with verifying the accuracy of the information on internet platforms, and we believe that this is an important step for our industry."

Interestingly, verification doesn’t necessarily mean that Airbnb will send inspectors to every single home and apartment listed on the site. The verification, according to the company, will be done through a mixture of company and community monitoring. This seems woefully inadequate. How can you tell the real condition of a home if no one actually goes inside and checks? Verifying 7 million rentals is a colossal feat. Statistically, there has to be some big problems lurking around and if nobody is tasked to actually step inside, new issues will surface down the road.

“More than 11 years after Joe, Nate and I started Airbnb, I have been asked what has surprised me most about the world. My answer is two things: that people are, in fact, fundamentally good, and that we are 99% the same,” Chesky said. “We still believe this, and with these changes, we hope to continue to demonstrate this to the world." This is a nice, lofty statement; however, maybe instead of relying upon blind trust, Airbnb should have invested in checking and investing to ensure the safety and quality of the homes listed on its site. Rather than depending on “faith,” examiners should be dispatched to each and every listing to ensure the safety of its customers. 

Fairly recently, a large number of CEOs have been forced to step down due to pressure from the public, media, board of directors and investors. High-profile CEOs of companies such as WeWork, Uber, Nike, Under Armour, Nissan, Boeing’s commercial division and McDonald’s have all been relieved of their responsibilities. They have all been held responsible for things that have occured or actions they’ve taken at their respective companies, which were held up to scrutiny and later decided it was best for a change. In light of this trend, it is surprising that the CEO of Airbnb didn’t take actions sooner. While it’s nice that Chesky is initiating changes in response to these serious problems, there are questions as to why he is not going further. It seems reasonable to require the company to hire the people needed to physically inspect and review each and every listing that is offered on the site. Without an independent army of auditors and examiners inspecting the places, how can Chesky and the company’s customers ever feel fully safe? 

Airbnb plans to go public next year with an initial public offering (IPO). If the company were to invest in a full-scale audit of all 7 million properties listed on the site, the costs will be very substantial. It could be possible that the company would rather not engage in a traditional on-site review to save money, in an effort to make the company’s financial picture look stronger when seeking investors for its upcoming IPO. If this is the case, it’s a sad commentary of another corporation putting profits before the safety of its customers. 

 

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