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Image courtesy Airbnb

Airbnb will set out to identify and measure racial discrimination experienced by users of its service through a new research project in partnership with Color of Change and other advisers.

Why it matters: “The reason we’re doing this is because we have not achieved our goal of reducing all bias and discrimination on our platform,” Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky tells Axios.

The big picture: Users of Airbnb’s home-sharing service have faced discrimination for years. Frustrated and heartbreaking anecdotes of subtle and overt racism would occasionally surface in social media, but affected customers had little other recourse.

  • “This is not a new issue,” says Chesky. “Presumably, this issue has existed so long as people had the tools to be discerning of who they want to stay with; and then, therefore, they could discriminate.”

Details: Project Lighthouse, as it’s been named, will seek to measure discrimination that travelers and hosts face based on the perception of their race.

  • "The right data to use is perceived race, because… when people deny somebody a home, they don't ask them their background, their nationality, their heritage. They look at them, they make a snap judgment, and the two things that we identified were photo and name,” says Chesky.
  • The study will cover the reservation process, reviews, and interactions with Airbnb’s customer support.
  • The company says it worked with privacy experts to ensure that the data won’t be linked with a user’s Airbnb account. It will be publishing its methodology, and users can also opt out of participating in the study.
  • After it’s completed, the company will publish its findings and data.

What they’re saying: "We get gaslit around whether or not something was racist or not" says Color Of Change President Rashad Robinson. "People say it was something else."

  • "They’re gonna be transparent about the data, which is the most important thing for us," he adds of Project Lighthouse.
  • Robinson also points out that Airbnb has assigned engineers to work on anti-discrimination efforts — a sign in Silicon Valley that the company takes the problem seriously.

Yes, but: A study is one thing, but what Airbnb does afterwards will be the true test of its commitment to combat discrimination.

  • More broadly, Airbnb will have to address discrimination that happens offline, when guests and hosts meet in person — as well as how its service affects the neighborhoods and cities where it operates, potentially deepening existing inequities.

Flashback: In 2016, the company enlisted former attorney general Eric Holder to investigate and assemble a report on the issue.

  • Since then, Airbnb has rolled out an anti-discrimination policy it requires all users to agree to.
  • It has also experimented with other approaches, such as downplaying users’ photos and names, and increasing the number of accommodations available via “Instant Booking” to decrease opportunities for discrimination.
  • Still, the company has lacked a way to measure whether these efforts have been effective, says Chesky. "Even if we'd made a lot of progress, it would be hard to know," he says.

What's next: As a future data-gathering project, Chesky says he wants to capture in-the-moment data, probably through the Airbnb app, about what he calls "moments of truth" for guests — booking, check-in, settling in (say, the morning after arrival), and checking out.

  • "How comfortable did you feel?" Chesky said. "These are moments when the most issues happen, and also the most delight happens."

Meanwhile: Chesky reiterated to Axios that a move for Airbnb to go public in 2020 is not off the table — and, as we previously reported, internal conversations on a potential IPO have resumed.

Go deeper

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
Sep 3, 2020 - Economy & Business

Long-term Airbnb renters want to beat the heat in the great outdoors

Data: Airbnb; Map: Danielle Alberti/Axios

The most popular locations for people and families renting homes for 28 days or longer are — so far — all places that offer a beautiful escape from the heat during the summer, according to data from Airbnb.

The state of play: Destinations topping the list this summer are clustered in Vermont, Maine, Colorado, and upstate New York. Expect that list to migrate south to Florida and New Mexico as winter arrives. (One thing the top destinations have in common: A lot of open space).

Biden to stress U.S. does not seek new Cold War in UN speech

Photo: Al Drago/Getty Images

President Biden will use his first address before the UN General Assembly to lay out his vision for an era of "intensive diplomacy" with allies and "vigorous competition" with great powers — without a Cold War with China.

Why it matters: Biden will take the podium in New York on Tuesday with his own international credibility in question after the chaotic withdrawal from Afghanistan. His administration also is struggling to build international momentum to fight climate change, the pandemic and rising authoritarianism.

4 hours ago - Health

Biden administration to lift travel ban for fully vaccinated international travelers

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

White House COVID-19 response coordinator Jeff Zients announced on Monday that the Biden administration will allow fully vaccinated travelers from around the world to enter the U.S. beginning in November.

Why it matters: The announcement comes as President Biden seeks commitments from countries to donate vaccines to the global COVAX initiative. He is expected to host a COVID summit on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly this week, and many of the countries attending have expressed frustration with the travel ban.