Don't freak out. But if you're an Airbnb host in the state of New York, there's a good chance your user data is on its way to the New York Attorney General's office. It's anonymized data, so personally identifiable data like your name and address have been removed. However, if the you're suspected of illegal activity, the attorney general can obtain your personal info from Airbnb.
The legality of Airbnb is a little up in the air in the state of New York. Or at least, some New Yorker Airbnb hosts do illegal things, and authorities are cracking down. However, surely realizing how Airbnb represents innovation in the industry, the New York Attorney General probably isn't trying to shut them down altogether. In Airbnb's own words:
The Attorney General's Office will have one year to review the anonymized data and receive information from us about individual hosts who may be subject to further investigation. We believe the Attorney General's Office is focused on large corporate property managers and hosts who take apartments off the market and disrupt communities. We have already removed more than 2,000 listings in New York and believe that many of the hosts the Attorney General is concerned about are no longer a part of Airbnb.
Similarly, the New York Attorney General's Office and Airbnb said in a joint statement that they're working with Airbnb on "an agreement that appropriately balances Attorney General Schneiderman's commitment to protecting New York's residents and tourists from illegal hotels with Airbnb's concerns about the privacy of thousands of other hosts." The data is anonymized for now, but again, if the state thinks you might be one of those law-breaking hosts, Airbnb has to turn over everything from your name to your social media accounts to your Tax ID number. In other words, they want to crack down on the creeps, not throw you in jail for renting out your bedroom for the weekend.
So while it seems upsetting for a private website to surrender a bunch of user data to the government, even if it's anonymous data, it also seems like this is in everybody's best interest. Local and state governments around the country are struggling with how to regulate services like Airbnb, which benefit many people but skirt around regulations. In San Francisco, for instance, Airbnb recently agreed to charge a 14 percent hotel tax, a source of revenue that many cities feel like they're being denied because of the service. Airbnb told Gizmodo that it's offered to collect hotel taxes in New York but is prevented from doing so do to state law. Other regulations are in place for people's safety.
It'll take some time to see how this all shakes out—and how much it affects Airbnb. It also remains to be seen if Airbnb can figure out what kind of company it wants to be in the long run. [Airbnb via TechCrunch]