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Critics say Airbnb’s anti-discrimination policy doesn’t go far enough

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Many point to the use of photo profiles as a key issue that needs to be addressed

Faced with criticism that it wasn’t doing enough to stem incidents of racial bias, Airbnb recently announced a plan to enhance diversity within the company and improve the experience of users who feel they’ve been discriminated against.

Will it be enough? According to some observers and politicians, the service still hasn’t gone far enough to make a significant dent in the problem, despite compiling a 32-page report with the help of outside consultants and former Attorney General Eric Holder.

In an interview with MIT Technology Review, Ben Edelman, the lead author of the Harvard Business School report that helped publicize Airbnb’s racial disparities, says the plan "does not seem likely to succeed."

Edelman specifically points to the use of profile pictures—"conceal the information about race that is giving rise to discrimination"—as a key change the company has been unwilling to make. Anonymous profile systems have been successfully adopted by numerous other online marketplaces, but Airbnb executives argue that the use of full profiles is necessary to build the trust necessary for a successful home-sharing network.

Politicians who have already raised the issue of bias on Airbnb also feel that the company’s recently announced slate of changes doesn’t fully address the problem. New York Assembly Member Walter Mosley, State Senator James Sanders, and New York City Councilman Donovan Richards had stronger words about the company’s report and response.

"This report is a complete failure. After months of ignoring their discrimination issue, Airbnb still will not back away from their policy barring users from taking legal action when their rights are violated. Merely offering optional anti-bias training for hosts and making photos less prominent will not prevent their platform from continuing to be a tool for discrimination. Given this response, we can truly see how little Airbnb cares about people of color and addressing the rampant racial discrimination that infects their website and negatively impacts our city."