Airbnb has announced that it is changing the way guest profiles are displayed in its app, specifically for Oregon residents. Oregon-based Airbnb hosts will now see a potential guest’s initials instead of their full name until they confirm that guest’s booking request. The change will be fully rolled out on January 31.
The change aims to prevent racial discrimination between hosts, according to the company’s announcement, by preventing them from taking a guest’s race out of 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 women from the Portland area who had sued the company. The plaintiffs, all black, alleged that the platform allowed hosts to discriminate against black users by requiring guests to add names and photos to their profiles.
After reaching a settlement with the plaintiffs, Airbnb announced it would “review and update the way profile names are displayed to hosts as part of the booking process.”
The company has spoken out in the past about its support for racial justice. It now requires users to agree to an Airbnb Community Commitment that states they will not discriminate. In the summer of 2020, it also launched Project Lighthouse, an initiative to expose and investigate discrimination on its platform. Prior to the launch of that program, the company had no way to “measure larger trends and patterns related to discrimination.” about his bookings.
Airbnb guests are not required to provide profile photos (although hosts can request them to book their properties). Since 2018 (after lawsuit, pre-settlement), the platform also keeps guest photos invisible to hosts before confirming bookings. That change, also aimed at countering discrimination, has proved somewhat controversial among Airbnb users, some of whom worry it could put marginalized guests in dangerous situations they would otherwise avoid. “I’d rather be turned down for a reservation than beaten or killed!” a user complained at the company’s community center.
But if the company expects such a strategy to reduce discrimination, why is it limited to Oregon? Airbnb spokesperson Liz DeBold Fusco, who was reached for comment, did not immediately comment on whether this feature will be expanded in the future. Fusco pointed to language in Airbnb’s announcement post, which reads: “As part of our ongoing work, we will learn all the lessons from this process and use it to inform future efforts to fight bias.” The company added that it plans to “continue to work with our hosts and guests, and with civil rights leaders to make our community more inclusive.”