Airbnb is taking steps to tackle discrimination from hosts on its platform with a new update for guests who are residents of Oregon. Unfortunately, it seems like people in other states, and around the world, will just have to keep on fighting to be treated fairly on the platform.
Beginning on Jan. 31, hosts will only see the initials of guests’ first names until they confirm a booking request, Airbnb announced in a December news announcement spotted by the Verge. After a host confirms the booking, the guest’s full name will appear. The change to how names are displaced will be in place for at least two years.
“While we have made progress, we have much more to do and continue working with our Hosts and guests, and with civil rights leaders to make our community more inclusive,” Airbnb said.
In its announcement, the company said the update is consistent with the voluntary settlement agreement it reached with individuals in Oregon in 2019 “who raised concerns regarding the way guests’ names are displayed when they seek to book a listing.”
According to the Oregonian, in 2017 Portland resident Patricia Harrington filed a lawsuit against Airbnb. She claimed that because Airbnb requires guests to disclose their full name and include a photo, which hosts’ review before they accept a booking, the company was allowing hosts to discriminate against Black guests. This constituted a violation of Oregon’s public accommodation laws, she alleged.
Airbnb settled the lawsuit, which included two more Black women in Oregon, in 2019. By that time, Harrington had died.
The lawsuit’s claims weren’t wrong. Black guests have been sounding the alarm about discrimination on the platform for years and even created a hashtag: #AirbnbWhileBlack. In 2016, a Harvard Business School study even found that requests from guests with African American names were roughly 16% less likely to be accepted by hosts than identical guests with distinctively white names.
That same year, Airbnb implemented an agreement to promote the equitable treatment of its users, which stated that all users agreed to treat everyone in the platform’s community “with respect, and without judgment or bias.” Following the agreement, the company began hiding guests’ profile pictures, which are now only revealed after the booking is confirmed. In 2020, Airbnb told Gizmodo that it had banned 1.4 million people from its platform for refusing to accept its nondiscrimination agreement.
Discrimination on the platform isn’t limited to Black people, though. Asian, trans, North Africans, Uyghurs, and Tibetans have been turned away by hosts in the U.S. and beyond.
Gizmodo reached out to Airbnb on Saturday to ask why this change only applied to Oregon residents. Considering what we know, it seems like it could certainly be beneficial in other areas as well. An Airbnb spokesperson cited the 2019 lawsuit settlement, which we described above.
“Given that the impact of this change is unknown, the implementation will be limited,” Airbnb spokesperson Liz DeBold Fusco said in an email. “We will evaluate the impact of this change to understand if there are learnings from this work that can inform future efforts to fight bias.”
While I may have been salty above—the world is just, you know, tiring—this is a positive step from Airbnb. The company may not be moving as fast as we would like in combatting discrimination, but discrimination is a difficult issue, and creating effective change takes time. The important thing is to keep the work going and get to a point where you fight discrimination proactively, not just because you got sued.