Airbnb apologizes after racism complaints, outlines changes

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Airbnb is a website allowing users to rent lodging in private homes.

NEW YORK — Airbnb is apologizing for its slow response to accusations of racism. And it’s outlining new policies to combat the problem, including reducing the prominence of photos in the booking process.

The company also plans to automatically block future reservations for dates where a host has told someone that a property was unavailable.

Anecdotes on social media involve African-American guests who were told listings were unavailable for the dates they wanted, only to see those same listings re-advertised later for the same dates.

Airbnb got Laura Murphy, former head of the ACLU, involved in reviewing the platform to avoid bias and discrimination.

However, Airbnb did not bow to critics’ requests that it remove profile photos entirely so that hosts can’t reject guests based on appearance. The company has said that photos are an important security features so hosts can recognize guests when they check in.

Starting October 1, any guest who feels like they’ve been discriminated against can let Airbnb know, and they will try and find a similar place to stay on Airbnb or an alternative accommodation. Also, as of November 1, users must agree to a stronger nondiscrimination policy.

Accusations that Airbnb has been ignoring complaints of racism have led several black entrepreneurs to create two new vacation rental websites where they say racism will not be tolerated.

Here’s part of the statement: “Discrimination is the opposite of belonging, and its existence on our platform jeopardizes this core mission. Bias and discrimination have no place on Airbnb, and we have zero tolerance for them. Unfortunately, we have been slow to address these problems, and for this I am sorry. I take responsibility for any pain or frustration this has caused members of our community. We will not only make this right; we will work to set an example that other companies can follow.”