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Airbnb announced that it’s changing the way guest profiles are displayed in its app — for Oregon residents specifically. Airbnb hosts who are based in Oregon will now see a potential guest’s initials, rather than their full name, until after they’ve confirmed that guest’s booking request. The change will fully roll out by January 31st.
The change aims to prevent racial discrimination among hosts, per the company’s announcement, by stopping them from gleaning a guest’s race from their name. A 2016 study found that Airbnb guests with names that sounded Black were 16 percent less likely to have bookings confirmed than guests with names that sounded white.
The announcement follows a voluntary settlement agreement that Airbnb reached in 2019 with three Portland-area women who had sued the company. The plaintiffs, all Black, alleged that the platform allowed hosts to discriminate against Black users in requiring guests to attach names and photographs to their profiles.
After settling with the plaintiffs, Airbnb announced that it would “review and update the way profile names are displayed to hosts as part of the booking process.”
The company has been vocal about its support for racial justice in the past. It now requires users to agree to an Airbnb Community Commitment certifying that they won’t discriminate. It also launched Project Lighthouse, an initiative to uncover and research discrimination on its platform, in the summer of 2020. Prior to the launch of that program, the company says it did not have a way to measure “larger trends and patterns related to discrimination” across its bookings.
Airbnb guests are not required to provide profile photos (though hosts can require them in order to book their properties). Since 2018 (post-lawsuit, pre-settlement), the platform has also kept guest photographs invisible to hosts before bookings are confirmed. That change, also intended to combat discrimination, has proved somewhat controversial among Airbnb’s users, some of whom worry that it could put marginalized guests in dangerous situations they’d otherwise avoid. “I’d rather get declined for a reservation than beaten or killed!” one user lamented in the company’s community center.
But if the company does expect such a strategy to reduce discrimination, why is it limited to Oregon? Reached for comment, Airbnb spokesperson Liz DeBold Fusco did not directly address whether this feature will expand in the future. Fusco pointed to language in Airbnb’s announcement post, which reads, “As part of our ongoing work, we will take any learnings from this process and use them to inform future efforts to fight bias.” The company added that it plans to “continue working with our Hosts and guests, and with civil rights leaders to make our community more inclusive.”