Airbnb Inc. is taking steps to promote more inclusive lodgings on its site after facing accusations from renters who say they were discriminated against by hosts because of race or other characteristics.
The room-sharing company said Thursday it would minimize users’ photos during the booking process; require antibias training for its employees; push hosts to use a feature that instantly books rooms; and create a team focused on promoting diversity, among other changes.
Some would-be renters have contended that Airbnb hosts denied them lodging after identifying their race or sexual identity through their photos, names or other means. The San Francisco company has sought to damp the controversies, in part, by hiring former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Laura Murphy, a former American Civil Liberties Union director, to advise the company.
“An increasing number of Airbnb hosts and guests have voiced their concerns about being discriminated against when trying to book a listing because of their race, sexual orientation or gender identity,” wrote Ms. Murphy in an internal report released by Airbnb. “This outcry from the community led Airbnb to closely examine their nondiscrimination policies and procedures.”
An Airbnb spokesman declined to comment beyond the report.
Silicon Valley companies have come under increasing fire for their lack of diversity in relationships with minorities, particularly in hiring, which critics say hampers their ability to craft products and services that have the broadest appeal. As a result, many have implemented antibias training and detailed their workforce makeups.
The controversy surrounding Airbnb came to a head following a widely cited Harvard University research paper in December that found that customers with names that sounded black were 16% less likely to be accepted for rentals than others with white-sounding names. It spawned the Twitter hashtag campaign, #AirbnbWhileBlack, and later prompted Airbnb Chief Executive Brian Chesky to vow to combat discrimination on the room-sharing site.
In the internal report released Thursday, Airbnb said it would create a team of engineers, researchers and others devoted to fighting bias and offer sensitivity training to hosts. To guard against race discrimination, Airbnb is planning to reduce the prominence of guests’ photos when they book rooms while enhancing other parts of their profiles. It will also encourage hosts to use an option that instantly books rooms, rather than relying on hosts to manually approve them.
In November, Airbnb plans to begin requiring users to pledge not to discriminate while using the service. The company said it will remove hosts from the service if they are found to have discriminated against customers seeking lodging.
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