Airbnb introduces new anti-discrimination policy

Airbnb introduces new anti-discrimination policy, by the BBC.

Online accommodation site Airbnb is introducing a new policy to combat reports that black people are less likely to get rooms. The move includes reducing the prominence of photos, introducing new technology, and asking users to sign an anti-discrimination agreement.

A study last year found that people with names that suggested they were black were discriminated against.

Many customers have also complained about the issue. Using the Twitter hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack, many users said that they had been told a particular listing was unavailable, only to discover that the same places were re-advertised as available on the dates they had wanted.

UPDATE: Let Airbnb Providers Discriminate as They Please, by Jeffrey Tucker.

One of the wonderful things about Airbnb is that owners can demonstrate their preferences. It’s not only their right; it’s actually beneficial to everyone.

Voluntary exchange:

Here’s an example. I had a friend coming to town from Shanghai, and I was arranging an Airbnb for him. The first contact pushed back: “Is he Chinese?” I said no, he is living in China but is originally from Ukraine. This prompted more pushback. “What was he doing in China, and why is he coming here?” I became annoyed at the questions. He had every right to ask them. It’s his home, after all. But I detected some kind of strange bigotry at work here, and it bugged me. So I made a pitch to another place one block away. The owner of the new place immediately said yes! As a result, she was $900 richer. I took great pleasure in cancelling the earlier bid, denying him the same amount of money. Maybe he will learn the lesson to open up a bit.

Now all of this is possible only because owners can discriminate, however irrationally. The money goes to the most liberally minded. And this strikes me as a good thing. Why would you want to pay money to someone who hates you if you have the option of paying someone who likes you?

Over time, people’s preferences line up with their economic interests. … When exchanges take place, it’s good that both parties agreed to it. And think of the results: the profits go to the good guys and are denied to the bad guys. That seems socially optimal to me.

Or we could muscle people:

The other way is proposed by Kristen Clarke, writing in the New York Times: “Only by allowing potential victims of discrimination their day in court and taking swift and comprehensive action to root out bias among its hosts can Airbnb fulfill its promise of being a truly inclusive online rental marketplace. If Airbnb fails to fix the problem on its own, litigation or congressional action may be required to provide greater clarity about the scope of anti-discrimination laws.”

That’s just great. Take a wonderful, voluntary, disruptive, successful company and pillage it with lawsuits, cops, investigations, bureaucracies and so on, all to make sure that owners are forced to rent to people they don’t like.

Discrimination is your right. Imagine, to take it further, you were not allowed to discriminate in your choice of marriage partner — perhaps letting the state choose your partner in a manner that did not discriminate on the basis of race. Or beliefs. Or musical taste. Or gender. Gross.

Another suggestion made by Clarke is for the company to “stop having users display an actual name or profile picture before booking; that information should be withheld until a reservation has been confirmed.”

This is just weird. Why wouldn’t you want to look at a face before renting a space in your home to someone? Owners can discern vast amounts of information from a face and much of it may matter to the decision. For example, what if you are an black owner who has a grudge against white people and only want to rent to black people? That is a preference that should be realizable, but it can’t be so long as there is no profile picture.

Worrywarts like Clarke imagine a world filled with seething racists who only want to hurt people of color. But they don’t account for the opposite impulse. Many people like to go the extra mile to demonstrate to themselves their absence of racial bias, simply because it makes them feel good. Call in private affirmative action if you want to. You can’t do that if race is completely removed as a factor.

Let people do what they will. The incentives not to discriminate stupidly are there, so people will sort it out better for themselves.

So many of these peer-to-peer services rely on reputation building. As a user of Lyft, I guard my reputation as a passenger very carefully. I tip well; I’m nice; I try to be at the right place at the right time for pick up and so on. All of this matters. In city taxis, it doesn’t matter at all. I can be a total jerk without cost.

It turns out that reputation-building works far better than police-state regulations to bring about socially desirable results.

hat-tip Matthew and Tim Andrews