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Digital Exile: How I Got Banned for Life from AirBnB (medium.com)
632 points by ancarda 7 months ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 311 comments



I have no particular opinion about the facts of the specific case in question. But there is something weird about the way customer service is set up these days:

1) Company: Doesn't like dealing with problem users/clients.

2) Company institutes policy saying that they can do whatever they want with no explanation. This makes it more efficient to handle the problem users.

3) Sanctioned users are now more frustrated than before because they aren't even given any explanation of what happened.

4) Users who are tech savvy take to social media or use personal networks to get special dispensations (see: every time someone posts on HN about a problem with their Google account and gets special intervention).

5) Company: Is happy because there is still an informal workaround for dealing with sufficiently motivated users or weird cases.

6) Users: Are left more powerless and potentially frustrated than when they had more sane tech support channels, but the company doesn't have to care about this.

This seems really suboptimal and the OP's comments on power imbalances seem on target. [edit: formatting, wording.]


Imagine a world in which Experian or Equifax would only fix a mistake on your credit report if you had enough followers to embarrass them on social media. This is where appropriate consumer protection laws come into play. The whole idea feels intuitively like a silly overreach to me since I watched Twitter, Airbnb, and these other services grow from nothing and so I take them less seriously, whereas banks and credit bureaus have existed as giants since I was born. On the other hand, one could imagine GDPR adding a rule that users must be provided with a detailed explanation and an appeals process before accounts can be deleted, and it wouldn't seem too burdensome when compared with the rest of the regulation.


>imagine GDPR adding a rule that users must be provided with a detailed explanation and an appeals process before accounts can be deleted

Arguably, that's already the case. The combined rights given in articles 15, 16 and 22 make it very difficult to legally justify a policy of banning people without explanation or appeal, especially if that process is automated. At the very least, you have the right to see any data used in that decision-making process and to have any inaccurate data corrected.

https://gdpr-info.eu/art-15-gdpr/

https://gdpr-info.eu/art-16-gdpr/

https://gdpr-info.eu/art-22-gdpr/


I'd expect as much--since you can't refuse service to someone for the stated reason of having the wrong skin colour or religion, you of course also can't refuse service without stating any reason at all. That rule doesn't exist just to protect consumers only from being discriminated to their face.

I'm kind of surprised that this is in the GDPR, I thought it had been part of consumer protection regulations for much longer. Maybe that was only in specific EU jurisdictions.


This is great, thanks for the links!


People seem to be naturally anti-regulation, failing to see that those regulations don't exist purely upon the whims of bureaucrats, but chiefly to address previous issues brought to the regulator's attention.

Sometime in the last century, this idea was implanted by big businesses in the media and therefore the thoughts of the citizenry that regulation is more than anything, just people who couldn't succeed in business bullying people who are, and that shit is so fucking dangerous that it makes me shake. Amazon, AirBNB, Google, Facebook, Apple, none of these companies give a FUCK about you any further than they are legally required to, not one iota further, and we constantly bemoan our politicians over having a "too regulated" business environment.


People? This seems to be a cultural trend in the US in particular. In many other countries the value of laws, social services, anti-trust and anti-corruption regulations, and so on, are rightly seen as necessary and desirable.

Unfortunately the US is very influential globally, in various ways. eg trade agreements, or just brutally implementing neo-liberal economics on weak countries they can coerce economically and/or militarily.

The US has also (having effectively no anti-trust for decades) has let many corporations based or founded there grow to unprecedented sizes and power.

Theres also other countries /areas (Jersey, Cayman Islands, etc.) that make a business of tailoring their laws to allow corporations to avoid paying taxes, pollute, hide data, censor journalists etc.


I think you are generalizing a bit too much and also injecting a false dichotomy that you are either for or against regulation as a concept.

Regulation in the abstract is neither good nor bad, the particulars of the regulation are what is important.

You can be critical and suspicious of onerous government regulations while still appreciating that there are many reasonable uses for regulations.


I dunno, I think there is a significant sentiment in the US that regulation is bad, period. There was the idea that Trump floated that was quite popular with his base that they would blanket eliminate 2 regulations for every one enacted.


Regulation (except for environmental ones) tend to violate the non-aggression principle and are thus not preferable (it's basically the government using it's monopoly on legitimate use of force to determine on what terms people interact in the market). A non-coercive solution would be to incentivize/negotiate better terms of service, as suitable.


You are generalizing too much. Even harsh critics of government regulation are rarely if ever willing to say there should be NO regulations or that ALL regulations are "bad".


You haven't been paying attention to harsh critics of government regulation apparently. Lots of them say exactly that, and they overlap with the "taxes are theft" loonies.


> People? This seems to be a trend in the US. In many other countries the value of laws, social services, anti-trust and anti-corruption regulations, and so on are rightly seen as necessary and desirable.

That's fair. Should've been more specific about that, it's a very American thing.


But who regulates the regulators? As bad as this example is, have you never heard of the nightmares people fall into dealing with government bureaucracies? If anything, they're much much worse than the worst that companies inflict.

Regulatory capture is a real thing too. Regulation isn't obviously positive just because there are reasons people trot out to justify it.

You're right, companies don't generally care about me. But neither does the Social Security Administration, the Department of Justice, my local police department, my local school board, or any post office in which I've ever found myself.


You know how sometimes a corporation buys all of it’s competitors but keeps them in business? And it creates a false facade of competition? What if they bought the government and did the same thing? Well, consider it done. And the joke is on you for as long as you let it.

You, like most Americans tend to do, are failing to understand the democratic concept and the responsibilities it must entail.

A healthy democracy is very possible. It requires 2 basic things:

- An fair and flat electoral process with sufficient protections against financial and propagandistic inequalities.

- An engaged and educated populace, elections produce politicians who serve the electorate.

The second one is a catch-22. An educated populace requires quality education requires a healthy democracy. for that reason, when things go wrong, they are extremely hard to get right again. This is why public education and a focus on humanities has such a deep legacy in the history of building democracies. Without both, short-sighted and/or self-interested thinking like yours will doom the arrangement.


"But who regulates the regulators?"

The voters.

"You're right, companies don't generally care about me. But neither does the Social Security Administration, the Department of Justice, my local police department, my local school board, or any post office in which I've ever found myself."

I've found that those agencies tend to care more about me than random companies. The rep at any of those places might not be able to help, but I can usually get them to try.


> But who regulates the regulators? As bad as this example is, have you never heard of the nightmares people fall into dealing with government bureaucracies? If anything, they're much much worse than the worst that companies inflict.

I think that last sentence could only be honestly written by someone who's lived their whole life in a society protected by strong regulatory structures. The massive benefits of regulation are taken for granted and forgotten, but the problems of implementation that still exist are magnified out of proportion.

Government bureaucracy is certainly not perfect, but lets not kid ourselves that it's worse than the alternative.

And the answer to your question is: a functioning legislature that's accountable to its constituents, and competently exercises its oversight role.

> Regulatory capture is a real thing too.

But rather than a call for less regulation, it's really a call for better oversight of the regulators.


My local neighbourhood police goes around visiting "difficult" households, mental patients that can still live at home, elderly in particular situations, addicts, checking up on "problematic" households that have been in contact with the law. I followed their stories about this aspect of their job on Twitter. They usually can't do anything much, in sad situations, but they do keep an eye out. Similarly they helped me out when my apartment burned down. Or when the corner shop got robbed, comforted the customer that had a knife held to his throat, and the owner. So they actually do care.

Certain parts of the social security administration (or equivalent) also care. They want to help people, that's what it's for. It depends on where you end up, if your case fits like a cog in the bureaucracy, that's what you'll get, it's efficient. But it's a social safety net for a reason, what else do the people do, whose jobs it is to guide people around and make sure they arrive at the right part of the bureaucracy, if not care?

There could be even more care, but when I see the homeless in other countries, how many are on the streets for no other reason than mental health, I think we're doing pretty good. I always judge a society by how they treat those who are the worst off. Lifting that very lowest rung, that is the only real progress in a society.

Oh you know another funny thing, your example about post offices? You probably remember those heart-warming stories of a grand-child addressing a drawing to "granpa" and the post office somehow figuring out where it should go (and similar stories). That kinda stopped when the postal service got privatised into multiple competing businesses. The delivery guy that belongs to the now-privatised previously-government postal service still has a pretty good idea who lives in the street, whether I have new neighbours, makes a (very short) chat. The delivery people of other delivery services, that have always been private, do not.

I'm sorry but in my experience everything points that government regulated services and the like inherently allow their clerks to care more than a private business.

I just imagined what it would be like if the local neighbourhood police got privatised. Brrr.


> But who regulates the regulators?

You and people like you talk as though the various regulatory bodies simply issue an edict and every corporation is obligated to oblige that very second, and it's ridiculous.

1. The regulations themselves are often based heavily upon opinions and trusted advice from people who actively are or who formerly were in the industry being regulated, not simply dreamed up and pulled from someone's ass

2. There is an entire months long process of discussion, meeting, decisions, appeals, revisions, etc. engaged in between experts on both sides, lawyers on both sides, etc. By the time a regulation becomes required law, it's likely been attended to by a few hundred if not thousand people from both private enterprise and Government over months if not YEARS of work.

3. Once a regulation becomes law, companies often have months of forewarning to get into compliance. In the event that a business is non-compliant with something, unless it's immediately life threatening, they are given warnings, written warnings, guidance, possible solutions, etc. Regulators are not some comic book villain trying to fuck over mom and pop stores. They are attempting to ensure the safety, efficiency, and long life of everyone involved in a business. They want you to be compliant, not to file paperwork and shut you down.

> As bad as this example is, have you never heard of the nightmares people fall into dealing with government bureaucracies?

Oh I have, and for years and years I took them at face value but ANECDOTE IS NOT EVIDENCE. Almost every time you hear about some person who ended up on the wrong end of a regulator's pen, if you start digging you'll find a long history of shady ass behavior from that person which is conveniently omitted from their account of the events, for I'm sure totally-not-lying reasons.

> Regulation isn't obviously positive just because there are reasons people trot out to justify it.

The vast majority of regulations are written in the blood of the people who had to die to show us that storing some chemical in a break room gave every 3rd employee cancer, or every person who ate fish from a polluted river who didn't know that the chemicals in it would destroy their bodies. The fact that you personally don't understand whatever is behind a given regulation, does not make it unimportant or frivolous.

> But neither does the Social Security Administration, the Department of Justice, my local police department, my local school board, or any post office in which I've ever found myself.

Except you can affect those if you get off your dead ass and vote.


Sounds like a great system for the incumbents, and a massive cost to any new players. You give it away when you say "both sides". In fact there are many sides, and regulation all to often favours the one with the best connections to the government - usually the largest.


Yeah, by now. The idea is to reverse that, because if you just say "fuck all regulations" you have pandemonium, which is the same in that it also favors the largest, but is different in that it's a million times worse than even what we have now.

The very same interests that subvert regulations then use that subversion to say regulations, "in general" are bad, without explicitly saying what the alternative would be. No regulations, or less corruption? What, exactly, are you arguing for?


BTW, you've been shadowbanned for 5 months or so. All of your comments start out invisible except to accounts with showdead=true. Those accounts can sometimes "vouch" one of your comments, like I just did here, making them visible to all users.

It probably happened to you because of something to do with this thread, since the dead comments start just after that: https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=16236350


> People seem to be naturally anti-regulation, failing to see that those regulations don't exist purely upon the whims of bureaucrats, but chiefly to address previous issues brought to the regulator's attention.

I don't think that view is natural in common citizens, but rather it's the result of effective, long-term propaganda (a.k.a. public relations [1]) campaigns by those who the regulations typically protect against (businesses and their owners, mostly) and who therefor have to comply with them.

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edward_Bernays


> Amazon, AirBNB, Google, Facebook, Apple, none of these companies give a FUCK about you any further than they are legally required to, not one iota further

You'd think this be common knowledge, right? But only yesterday I saw someone here arguing that Tesla is somehow an exception to this rule and really does and will care about us and the planet. I remember believing similar good things about Google in the very early 2000s (that did not last long for me).


Preference for less regulation is a normal cultural and personal characteristic, nobody had to implant anything. I don’t view big business as some amorphous entity but rather a collection of people that will do what’s best for them. It’s the same as with politicians who will do ANYTHING to get elected - even pass solid laws that benefit everybody. As long as your goals are aligned, it’s not a problem that they don’t actually give a fuck about you.

EDIT: Downvote if you disagree.


I'd rather imagine a world where Experian or Equifax don't have a credit report on me, but I agree with the crux of your message.


What would that world look like? When you wanted to borrow money, how would the lender expect that they have a good idea of your risk profile? You could tell them all of the companies with which you've had a good relationship, but ignore the ones where you've failed to pay them. If you could default or discharge your obligations without any repercussions, that would essentially end the ability for people to get loans without collateral. Apartment rental companies wouldn't know whether you had broken leases in the past. This would make the entire world much more conservative with their money because they'd have to treat everyone as the same risk profile. There would be no benefit for good economic behavior.


By statute, credit agencies can only keep 7 years of credit history on you. Wouldn't lenders be even better served without that 7-year limit? Yet the limit remains in place, because ultimately the point of all of this is to serve consumers and society at large, not just lenders. It's about finding a balance where economic value is maximized while reasonably protecting consumers. And given the Equifax breach it's not unreasonable to question whether the appropriate balance involves this system continuing to exist at all in its current form.


No credit score in Slovenia. The country still functions...


> GDPR

From the article:

> ...have exercised our discretion under our Terms of Service to disable your account(s)

The language here implies that the account still exists in a suspended state, and is not deleted. If you're a european, under the GDPR they must give you all your data if you ask for it. Maybe this would include the reason they banned the account.

Otherwise, you can at least demand that they erase the data they're holding only to your disadvantage.


It isn't clear to me that the GDPR requires disclosure of data that is related to a person but was not created by or provided by that person.

So complaints from user1 about user2 or customer service notes about user2 wouldn't be considered personal data of user2 and thus wouldn't fall under GDPR rules.

If this isn't the correct interpretation, I would appreciate a pointer to something in the GDPR that elaborates on this.


>It isn't clear to me that the GDPR requires disclosure of data that is related to a person but was not created by or provided by that person.

Why wouldn't it? If it's data about an identifiable individual then - by definition - it is personal data.

Furthermore, in the ICO's recent report into political parties' use of personal data[0], they expressed the following view:

"Our investigation found that political parties did not regard inferred data as personal information as it was not factual information. However, the ICO’s view is that as this information is based on assumptions about individuals’ interests and preferences and can be attributed to specific individuals, then it is personal information and the requirements of data protection law apply to it."

[0] https://ico.org.uk/media/action-weve-taken/2259369/democracy... p29


There is a difference between the interpretation of the phrase "personal data" within the context of the GDPR and outside the context of GDPR. At least I think there is a difference.

For example, consider a website that maintains a collection of birthdays for public figures derived from public sources (historical documents, news accounts, social media posts from the public figures themselves, etc.). In many jurisdictions the birth dates might even be available via public record searches.

Clearly the birth dates are "personal data" in the colloquial sense of the phrase, but I don't think that the data as held by the website operator would be subject to the GDPR provisions, right?


Yes, those data would be personal data, and thus be subject to the GDPR.

Personal data is _any_ information about an identified (or identifiable) natural person.


>It isn't clear to me that the GDPR requires disclosure of data that is related to a person but was not created by or provided by that person.

It absolutely, positively does require that disclosure. Article 15 states:

"The data subject shall have the right to obtain from the controller confirmation as to whether or not personal data concerning him or her are being processed, and, where that is the case, access to the personal data"

"Personal data" is defined in Article 4 as:

"any information relating to an identified or identifiable natural person (‘data subject’); an identifiable natural person is one who can be identified, directly or indirectly, in particular by reference to an identifier such as a name, an identification number, location data, an online identifier or to one or more factors specific to the physical, physiological, genetic, mental, economic, cultural or social identity of that natural person;".

If I have any information* that can be related to you by any identifier, directly or indirectly, it is personal data within the scope of GDPR. Server logs, invoices, customer service records, CCTV footage, emails between employees that mention your name or username, the whole kit and caboodle.

The definition of "processing" given in Article 4 includes storage.

The regulations would be a farce if I could hoover up data about you from third parties or through surveillance technology, but you had no rights over that data simply because you didn't provide it to me.

https://gdpr-info.eu/


The quote there mostly defines what a natural person is, not what "relating" should be taken to mean.

Does it refer only to facts about a person, or does it include opinions and business decisions made by the company about that person? If one employee tells another by email that they dislike a particular customer and asks to have them banned, is that the customer's personal information in itself?


See my answer above.


A couple of points to answer your question:

1. Yes, when exercising your "right of access", companies would have to send you all the personal data they have on you, except when disclosing this information would harm others (ie: notes of your manager about your performance or the example you gave) The exception does not mean that they can blankly refuse to give you any data, only the "offensive" part must be refused. By definition, that is still considered personal data however. As M2Ys4U mentioned: inferred data is also personal data.

2. there is a case where you don't have to provide all information: the right of data portability only applies to data provided by the data subject.

3. Someone is referencing article 14 below. That is not the same as giving access to data. Article 14 specifies how a data subject must be informed about processing of his data when you've received the data from someone else. For example: you've received someone's info from a recruiter and you now want to process his data to see if this person is a valid prospect. The article works together with article 13 (how to inform a data subject on what you are doing with the data he gives to you directly). Together, these articles are the reason for 50% of the privacy notices of the last couple of months :-)


The definition of personal data in GDPR doesn't mention "created or provided by that person" in any way. Can you provide a reference limiting the scope past the definition in Article 4?

Article 14 explicitly talks about data not provided by the data subject, further clarifying that it is in scope.


My wording wasn't quite right. GDPR refers to "personal data". I don't think all data about a person is "personal data" to be controlled by that person according to GDPR.

* are my interview notes during the hiring process "personal data" subject to GDPR provisions (disclosure, destruction, etc). * are my business meeting notes with a contractor subject to GDPR?


Both times: yes and no. They both are indeed considered personal data, but they don't always have to be disclosed (as disclosing might harm others)


> Maybe this would include the reason they banned the account

It might not unless the definition is really stretched. It's not data collected about you. Otherwise every email some employee sends discussing this situation would also need to be included.


>It might not unless the definition is really stretched. It's not data collected about you.

It's quite obviously personal data within the definitions used in GDPR. It's information that can be related to a natural person; those two criteria are the only criteria that must be satisfied for data to be regulated under the GDPR.

https://gdpr-info.eu/art-4-gdpr/

>Otherwise every email some employee sends discussing this situation would also need to be included.

Yep. If the contents of those emails can be related to a natural living person by any identifier (name, username, email address, account number etc) then it's personal data.


Its identifiable, yes, but not personal. Otherwise, all free-form text entry would have to be processed prior to a GDPR request, which is not likely.

Take Facebook as an example, when you request your personal data, they present what is linked in their database to you, which is of course not where anyone mentions your name. Who is to say that my name (Paul Smith) identifies me and not some other Paul?


Actually, when someone is identifiable with a couple of pieces of data, that becomes personal data. For example, if you would be the only Paul Smith on earth, we would consider that personal data. If you are the only Paul Smith in the US and the context reveals that we are talking about someone in the US, those 2 pieces together are personal data (and so on).

That is what they mean with "indirect identification" in the link provided by jdietrich.


I think we will actually see the right to have an account be instated and the right to permanently ban people taken away from websites, now that we can see their lifespan may actually be decades and the banning becomes profoundly disproportionate for non-criminal activity. It's analogous to the MPAA/RIAA demanding to disconnect people for piracy, except it might have already been in effect for over 2 decades for some people and websites.


As others had said that is almost the case already, and it does give you the right to know the basis for an automated decision and have a human review it.


What if you don't have enough people voting the same way as you and the government ignores your request for regulations that benefit you?


To be fair that actually might be an improvement for those two companies.


4a) said savvy users also have to be willing to write these emotionally persuasive victim-narrative posts and pump them on social media. I think this is the polar opposite of what the average tech-focused person wants to be doing.

Github stole my 4-character username ("mind") to hand over to some machine learning startup-lookalike. Their official justification is it had been inactive for over two years (it had not), and a third party had reported it (to take, obviously). There was also no pre or even post notice, just the next time I logged in it showed up already changed. I could have easily and promptly responded to any notice - the lack of account activity was due to being occupied with the fallout from a significant death in the family.

I tried emailing customer service, but of course there's no need to consider facts when they've got policies.

I thought about trying to raise a social media stink when they were being acquired by Microsoft. But at the end of the day it's just not worth trying to craft a narrative to be received by the "web 2.0 class". I had enjoyed having the short name as Github is obviously a common center for bug reports etc, and I figured I'd eventually mirror repositories there. But at this point any illusion of cromulence they had is gone, and repos need to first be published on a real solution anyway. So whatever.


> Github stole my 4-character username ("mind") to hand over to some machine learning startup-lookalike.

Wow ok, I'd just like to be crystal clear here.

1. Your github userid was 'mind', and you had used that ID. 2. With no notice, github changed which persons/entities had access to/owned that ID.

I assume repos and gists were moved to your new ID? May I ask what they changed it to?

Were you a member of any organizations?

Thanks.


1. yes. 2. yes. The complete lack of a notice period is my biggest problem, as I could have easily responded to an email to say that it had not been abandoned.

My username was forcibly changed to "mind-zz". I found this out a mere 2 months after it happened, upon logging in.

Admittedly, my account did have little activity. I used it to make a bona fide Rust bug report, logged in at various other times to check said bug report or just look around, and then life happened.

So there weren't public URLs that were being relied on. Although according to the customer service response, they would have done the exact same thing even if it had copious early activity.

Presumably there's more of an invisible line based on how much your usage looks like you're dependent on them, and how much of a public disruption it would cause. But that's the point - the actual Rust repo isn't about to get yanked out from under all of us, and people that fit the mold of creating their new repos on Github are probably fine. But the less you're in the "community" the more you're at the mercy of their arbitrariness.


This is pretty scandalous, and could lead to some legitimate security problems, how severe depends on some details.

I'm pretty sure that if this practice was widely known, there would be some tangible ire directed toward github, at least in the hacker/dev community.

> Although according to the customer service response, they would have done the exact same thing even if it had copious early activity.

Are you comfortable pasting that response in here? Thanks!


Relevant bit from support@github.com:

> Thanks for reaching out and my apologies for any worry this change has caused you. First, let me assure you that there has been no unauthorized access to your account: your username was changed by GitHub staff.

> We were contacted last March by someone with interest in claiming@@mind@@ for their own use. Upon inspection, we found that your account had not been accessed in over two years and we believed it to be abandoned. We released the username so another user could register it, per our name squatting policy: https://help.github.com/articles/name-squatting-policy

(AsteriskAsterisk was changed to @@ due to HN formatting)

----

As I said above, my account definitely had been accessed within the past two years. And it had been created and immediately used. And given that I do email on my own domain, it was pretty easy to see that this wasn't part of some farm of accounts. (I responded with all these points, to no avail).

And now here I am again justifying my own position in terms of their deliberately wide-open policy, to make sure I stay on the right side of public consensus - really, if I was "name squatting", then so is anyone who takes a break from using a service.

My guess is that someone greased the rules behind the scenes for a friend's startup. Which is of course is illegible to "support", so they just end up running interference.


I just looked over my account again, and realized I had actually created it in 2008 and had been reporting the occasional bug with it over the years. So we're talking a 10 year old account that shows a definite pattern of use - just maybe not the pattern Github envisions as being their ideal customer.

(This had completely slipped my mind - it's been a hell of a year).


That other party is called Tiny Mind. Somewhat apropos I guess?


>4) Users who are tech savvy take to social media or use personal networks to get special dispensations (see: every time someone posts on HN about a problem with their Google account and gets special intervention).

The only reason I maintain a Twitter account is that it seem to be the only way to engage the "good" customer support at so many companies these days.

When I was having trouble with my U-verse TV box, AT&T sent me a new one and then scheduled a tech to come out a few days later to "install" it. I plugged it up and called AT&T to have them activate the box, but they refused to let me give them the relevant serial number from the box to activate it over the phone and were adamant they had to send a tech to do it. I complained into the void on Twitter and AT&T replied asking me to DM them the relevant information(account number, serial number, etc) and they got it turned on in five minutes. They still couldn't/wouldn't cancel the tech visit so he showed up and we told him he wasn't needed.


> The only reason I maintain a Twitter account is that it seem to be the only way to engage the "good" customer support at so many companies these days.

I've heard enough people say the same thing to assume it must be true. I also saw a lot of this type of complaining (usually expressed in hyperbolic, super-outraged language) when I used to use Twitter.

This seems very counter intuitive though. Why would a company want to encourage people to make complaints in the most public way possible? It makes the company look bad, and encourages opportunistic complaining (I'm sure there are people who feign outrage over some small issue in the hope of being sent some coupons or a discount code).

Surely they'd be better off investing in private complaints channels (email, chat etc), and making it clear that you'll get the fastest response by using those.

I wonder if it's because the customer service channels were often outsourced or off-shored years ago, and are hidden behind layers of process and management. Whereas the head of marketing has the company Twitter account on her phone.


>Why would a company want to encourage people to make complaints in the most public way possible?

It's a perverse result of treating customer service as a cost center. The department that you call when you have a problem has targets - average call duration, cost per resolution etc. On a micro level, that seems fairly rational. They want customer service representatives to deal with complaints as quickly and cheaply as possible. On a macro level it's largely irrational, especially in the age of social media. Those CSRs are incentivised to fob off customers, who are then incentivised to complain on social media.

The problem persists because of a division of responsibility - private complaints are resolved with resources from the customer support budget, but public complaints are resolved with resources from the marketing budget. For the customer service department, it's hard to argue that you should spend $200 to please a customer who is only worth $20 a year. For the marketing department, it's a no-brainer to spend $400 to prevent a social media shitstorm.

Fixing that problem requires either strong leadership from the very top of the org chart, or tremendous bravery from just below the top. Someone has to make the case for the company losing fairly large sums of money in customer support expenses to prevent the risk of people badmouthing them on Twitter. Loss aversion cuts both ways - you don't want to spend the money to prevent a hypothetical, but you'll spend the money in a heartbeat to fix a bad news story.


> Why would a company want to encourage people to make complaints in the most public way possible?

I think the topic here is that customer support only/mainly replies in a constructive and interested manner when the issue is brought to public, e.g. on Twitter, because now they are being publicly called out for their behavior. Appalling, but appears to be true.

On the other hand, when using private channels for customer support you'll get responses that range from being passed around by call center operators that are powerless (and thus useless) to solve your problem, to downright being lied to.

Private support channels, namely those operated by real people, are costly, making Support a constant target for budget cuts rather than actual, professional management (that "investment" you mentioned). Plus, these channels are known for their hostile/toxic environments and meager paychecks, so it seems unfair to expect high quality professional customer support from the "official" channels; but the bean counters made the budget work, hooray!


You're getting cause and effect wrong.

Because it's public, they act on it. I'm completely certain they'd prefer to be doing off-Twitter support, via the complex phone tree, emails that take 72 hours for a response, etc., but they don't have that option.


My point was that maybe people wouldn't resort to public complaining if they got a quick and helpful response from a private channel.

Sure, some people would still complain in public just to make a scene (because some people are like that) but presumably the number would go down.


It's unlikely they can sustain the Twitter level of response time and lavish personal attention for the more normal support channels.


It could also be good for the brand to be publically helping upset customers. Probably case-by-case.


Express Scripts has figured out how to avoid having to do meaningful support over Twitter. If you ping their main, verified account, they (apparently - I still haven't found a way to determine if it's legit) reply back on a separate support-only unverified Twitter account, asking for things like name, birthday, phone, insurance number, etc.

Example: https://twitter.com/ExpressRxHelp/status/1009919193595154437


A substantial volume of reports will probably be sufficient to alert Twitter to look into Verifying them or shutting them down.


I don't understand Twitter well enough I guess... how does this help them?


I don't know if it's incompetence or intentional. (and again, I still haven't been able to confirm if it's genuine...)

Either way, it likely gets them out of a lot of expensive Twitter support, as people (should) go "nooooope" when asked by a random stranger for that info.


Could be someone social engineering or they just don't want the chatter about issues directed to them.


They're not the only ones. T-Mobile does something similar.


This sounds familiar -- Amazon suddenly blocked the Kindle version of my book about 8-bit arcade game programming (https://www.amazon.com/Making-8-bit-Arcade-Games-C/dp/154548...) and won't provide a path to remediation or give any further response other than "we're upholding our previous decision". Some of the author forums actually recommend emailing Jeff Bezos directly in these situations.


I bought a physical copy of your book as a teaching aid for some kids I help tutor, its really great!

I can't imagine why Amazon could justify blocking the Kindle version, maybe (and this is a stretch) the scanned content may have triggered some security check?


Thanks! I appreciate it. I don't know why, could be related to PDF formatting but it's the exact same template as my other book. Could be a trademark claim, or just some grumpy reviewers, without feedback I have no idea. So now I'm selling a downloadable PDF on Gumroad.


If you will keep pestering them with an email about what you have done to correct your book (make up some stuff based on their guidelines) and send it over and over and over (waiting until they respond each time), changing it up a bit each time, you'll usually get through to an idiot that will unblock you.


That's great, sorry that Amazon is screwing you this way. I'll direct my students to your Gumroad listing then.


I'm not familiar with Gumroad; how do I find your book?


There’s a link on 8bitworkshop.com to both print and PDF versions have in the upper-right corner (GET BOOKS menu)


A few years ago I had an issue with a large company. I guessed that the CEO's email was his_first_name@website.com and sent him a message. To my surprise he emailed me back and we exchanged a few emails. It'd be interesting if Bezos really did intervene in these types of cases. From my own data point, a CEO can care about this stuff even if the support their company provides is crap.


There is no way Jeff answers his own "public" email anymore. It is a far too well known trick at this point.

I'm nobody and I get way too many solicitations as it is. I can't even imagine the volume received by the wealthiest man on Earth.


There is an 'executive relations team.' Too many people recommend writing to jeff@ which is a mistake because the decision of that executive relations team is usually final. So if you make a mistake in your letter, misunderstand something, or they just don't decide in your favor it actually forecloses other opportunities you might have had to get a resolution.


Good try, Jeff Bezos. We know it's you.


This is a huge problem inherent in large-scale platform-type businesses in growth stages. The scale required to be competitive in these arenas is such that if support costs scaled linearly they would strangle you. At least until you reach near-monolopy status and can raise prices. These platforms each hit a nadir in customer service before a few embarrassing failures that trigger apologies and more transparency.

It's also worth noting that these customer service failures are only newsworthy when the platform has ubiquity. That is, getting banned only matters if it locks you out of a significant portion of a market.

As others point out there are some industries that have consumer protections. For example, Visa basically cannot single out individuals to be ineligible for Visa cards. It's worth considering whether these protections should be extended to any company controlling large market segments.

Maybe machine learning can (ironically) bring some humanity back to customer service. And I don't mean infuriating, worthless chatbots. I mean instead of having single-criteria lists of "offenses" that trigger bans have machine learning models that can look at customers holistically in a way that would be very difficult to manually program. This approach could be taken now using "dumb" scoring and weighting algorithms, but it would require a lot of manual work tweaking and analyzing.


There’s no evidence of reversal from nadir, ie it is an ever deepening black hole of “screw the customers.” eg. Google and Apple have no customer service. Generally the approach is fake apology then onwards into the abyss.


Why would Visa care to ban anyone from their network? They get paid no matter what, and have zero liability. The banks issuing Visa cards can certainly ban people, and use credit reports to deny applicants. Banks and merchants are the ones eating the fraud/chargeback losses, and they'll drop you in a heartbeat if you're causing them to lose money.


Another option for users is to file a complaint with the appropriate regulator, screenshot their submission and provide it to the company in question. For companies that, like AirBnB often operate in the gray area WRT regulations (and for which regulators often appreciate extra firepower) this could elicit a quick response.

It is sad that you have to do this, but it might be the most effective option. It might also help others in the same situation.


Sadly in the US, this isn't a channel we have available much. The FCC just announced that they're just gonna tell you to go pound sand unless you pay them.

State Attorneys General can still do things, sometimes.


It's important to keep in mind how many problem users there may be. Trolls can create millions of accounts, and to respond thoughtfully to each one would require orders of magnitude more manpower than the trolls themselves. So every service needs a bulk insta-perma-ban hammer for large-scale trolls. Twitter is banning accounts by the millions in order to make a dent in the trollage.

Sadly, there will be false positives. Legitimate users that get mistakenly banned need recourse. Traditionally, your recourse was through the law. But courts are so slow and inefficient that it takes months and thousands of dollars to get even the simplest thing decided, let alone some kind of he-said-she-said dispute like the case here.

If I were the OP, I'd just sign up again with a burner phone number.


This has been a problem since humanity moved beyond living in extended family villages. It's the problem of civilization. It's not what you know, it's who you know. Knowing people who have power makes you more powerful. Power, because it depends on popularity, tends to be distributed according to a power law (funny coincidence, that).


Man, I'm so happy to read this, exactly how I feel regarding pretty much everything involving a subscription.

- Company abuses contract (imo fraudulently but they can always say it's negligence)

- Company waits to see if user is motivated enought to take action against them

- As more and more company do this, less and less people are capable to keep up with the extra work (support calls, letters, judicial action) and less and less "honest" alternatives exist.

=> Today's world

It's kind of a capitalist darwin selection.


> This seems really suboptimal and the OP's comments on power imbalances seem on target.

There is an easy solution: Tell all your friends that they should avoid companies that have such a policy in their terms of service and create a public blacklist of such companies including an explanation what policy in their terms of service justifies putting the company on this blacklist.


The existence of a power imbalance indicates you can't really do without the other party. The big companies have amazing economies of scale, and consumers (on their good side) can benefit greatly from them. There's a handful of airlines, two mobile networks, one ISP for most people, etc.

edit: Also, in my experience running businesses, the 10% of the customers cause 90% of the problems, so eliminating them results in much greater profits and cost savings. And if the problem customer is not high value, then there isn't much incentive in dealing with them.


I.e the 10% are not worthy of having an ISP, or health insurance.

As for the ISPs, this often isn't even about the customers being annoying, but simply their subscriber line being rotten or in an undocumented state which to sort out is too complicated for the tech-drones.


Good luck convincing people they shouldn't use anything by Google.


But you can look at the individual services and tell them what alternatives there exist and what "dubious" terms of service these companies avoid.

It is not an all-or-nothing, but an "avoid, except for these two exotic use cases, for which there currently exists no alternative (and as soon as there exists one, drop also these)".


Sure, and that probably will hurt such bad actors to some degree, but alternatives also come with downsides too - no product is perfect out there, and people often have different priorities.

Not to say I applaud Google's strategy - I think it is horrific.


At least they should utilize it with private domain plus run frequent backups of gmail and gdrive stuff. One never knows when one may get unplugged.


Stories like this are why I avoid relying on the sharing economy when I really need something. If I'm going on a trip with my kids in tow, I don't want to be at the mercy of AirBNB where someone can flippantly screw me over with little recourse. If I want to rent a car on vacation I might try to reserve a car through Turo but I'll reserve through a traditional car rental company just to be safe.

I know I can have a bad experience with a traditional company but I also know they're not just gonna close my account and persona non grata me with no appeal. It's kinda sad that these sharing economy businesses are even more heartless than the incumbents in some ways.


Note that the "sharing" economy is an outright lie. Its piecework wrapped in what AirBnB, Uber & Turo hope is a more palatable verbiage. Sharing is when someone shares something with you, generally without recompense. None of these companies sell anything like that!


Very good point.


Consumers generally don’t care about these terms until it affects them personally. Additionally, in the author’s case, I can’t name one alternative to the type of service provided by AirBnB. Maybe I’m out of the loop.


> I can’t name one alternative to the type of service provided by AirBnB

What exactly is it that AirBnB provides that hotels don't? I like staying at AirBnBs, but there are lots of alternatives depending on exactly what components of the services they provide you require.


Places to stay in small towns where there is at most one hotel that might be inconvenient or full or nonexistent. Places to stay where you can actually use a kitchen (great in areas with weak food availability or for people with allergies). Not having to argue with hotel night staff about whether you can pay by card. And in general way better service (from hosts).


Yeah, I've used priceline to stay in Michigan, mostly. I've never had trouble with declining to put a cc on file at the hotel. Drove out to Connecticut and their policy was hard, of course I didn't have cc funds available and I had a carload of kids that had been traveling all day. One of the guys there, a bellhop I think, put the charge on his card and trusted me not to screw him. One of the nicest things a stranger has ever done for me.


Hotels require credit cards because without them you get far too many problem guests (drug dealers, partiers, pimps, hookers). Based on my experiences, I wouldn't want to stay in a hotel that didn't require credit cards.


Sorry there seems to be some confusion here. I was complaining that a hotel would not let me pay by card (because they were not declaring the income presumably). "Our machine is broken, we only take cash etc". I escalated it up the chain and the machine miraculously unbroke in that case but it's not the first time I have this kind of experience in a hotel.


> "Our machine is broken, we only take cash etc"

If you care about privacy, this is not a bug, but a feature.


Yeah sure and I love having the option but I absolutely hate being lied to.



I've used VRBO and HomeAway before Airbnb existed, and I always had excellent experiences.

After my recent bad experience with Airbnb and reading this story, I'm going to give them another look.


Ouside of truly exceptional circumstances, consumer boycotts just do not work. Tragedy of the commons and all that. If you want to see change, something you need to demand regulation.


Being treated with dignity by companies should not depend on how many friends I have.


> there is something weird about the way customer service is set up these days

In countries without proper consumer protection laws and regulations, mind you.


We recently rented a house at Niagara Falls, which looked nice in pictures, although a few people in reviews mentioned it's kind of old. When we arrived, the shower wasn't working. An hour later police showed up, as someone reported property break in. The following day, in the morning the electric company showed up and turned off electricity, at the request of the previous property manager, who was recently fired, and decided to have a revenge. Finally, when we came back after a day at the falls, there were police notices on the house stating that it's illegal for anyone to occupy the property, as it was being used as illegal vacation rental. We got our stuff and got out to a nearby hotel, which luckily had prices on last minute discount... When I though about raising a complaint with AirBnB for a refund, I've imagined exactly the same situation as happened to the author here. I've also though about all the time I would need to waste to provide the evidence to the AirBnB... In light of this, we settled for an owner's offer to refund us privately over PayPal (including AirBnB fees) in exchange for not leaving a negative feedback. Take whatever you want out of this, but the reason we settled (and didn't provide feedback which could be useful to other people) is precisely because we knew how it is to fight with the giants. Been recently fighting for a compensation from BA for 24 hour delay, and it's seriously not worth the time I had to spend on getting these 600 euro, as the number of hours spent times my salary is higher.


>in exchange for not leaving a negative feedback

This is the same reason I roll my eyes when a ride sharing app asks me to rate a driver - I assume anything less than 5 stars is going to kill their work so I just give 5 stars. The one time I had a bad experience (nice driver, liked to talk, but could not drive and talk and almost got us killed), I just skipped the review entirely.

I have this working theory that we (people privileged enough to spend lots of time per day on the Internet) are getting close to being able to spend our time in fictional spaces; one of the reasons for that is the fact we spend a lot of goddamn time lying about things in order to make systems work the way we want. Now let's you and I sit down and talk about what 4 stars in iTunes/ Spotify/ whatever means in your personal system . . .


> I assume anything less than 5 stars is going to kill their work

> almost got us killed

This seems like a perfectly acceptable time to kill someone's ability to do a job, if they're bad enough at it that they can literally kill the people they're working with.


You don’t want to kill their work, they might actually kill somebody.

I’m all for the sharing economy and helping people out but I draw a line at safety. If you cannot drive you will get a bad rating. Sorry.


If I left bad rating to carpooling drivers who drive unsafely... I’d do it every time. For some reason, although I’m ok with one offense at a time, drivers really want to both phone and drive over the speed limit, and tail the next guy, at the same time, and the 4 witnesses in the car don’t worry them...


> If I left bad rating to carpooling drivers who drive unsafely... I’d do it every time.

Um, maybe... maybe you should? I don't understand this hesitation to accurately rate people who are bad at their job, to a level where someone can be seriously injured.

What exactly does it take some of y'all to give someone less than 5 stars? "Hit a child in a crosswalk, 4 stars"


Look, I went last week to the police station reporting a minivan who tailed me, then overtook me on the right and drove back into my car. Granted I wasn’t going at full speed (I was maintaining distance with the car in front, which made the minivan driver highly unhappy), but it was at 110km/h and we could all have died. Then the driver flew off. That makes 4 counts of infringement, 5 if you include attempted murder.

Response from the judiciary: The prosecutor won’t charge the guy, because the French courts are overwhelmed with same situations with multi-casualty accidents. I wonder how we got here.

France.


I'm not sure what this has to do with giving an Uber/Lyft driver a 1-star rating for reckless driving, but I'm glad you could share a story.


That's not special to France. You wouldn't get anywhere with that complaint in most nations. In part because your testimony isn't worth much as evidence.


I guess where you draw the line at safety is your choice. I draw the line at any of the following: using your phone/texting, running a red light, changing lanes without looking or without leaving proper space, hard braking and near misses, aggressive tailgating, consistently missing turns/traffic signs/etc, aggressive speeding (+15mph more than the flow of traffic), not yielding to pedestrians, yelling at other drivers and/or losing your cool while driving.

Regarding you comment: I do it every time - I also indicate in the review what was wrong. If you can barely drive you should not drive anyone around. Sorry.


blablacar.com limits the complaints to 120 characters. And once, they gave the complaint to the driver before they rated me, so the driver rated mr 0/5.


I went to a "hot" new restaurant recently...

It was busy alright.

The owner was running around like a mad person furiously cleaning tables.

I enjoyed my meal, the service was great, but as we were leaving I was disgusted to see the owner (who was cleaning tables, mind you) cough into her hand and then use that same hand to wipe down a table.

I noticed her voice sounded a bit off as well.

Anyways sure enough, the next day, I got sick.

When I told my friends I was considering leaving a 1 star review for that restaurant as a result... they were dumfounded... how could I possibly... you pariah you!

I was flabbergasted.

This restaurant owner came into her own restaurant knowing she was sick, and was publicly cleaning tables with dirty hands that she was coughing into... and I was the one getting pushback for wanting to leave a 1 star review as a result.

I left the review, the owner apologized and essentially admitted that she had come into work sick.

But I still feel weird about the whole ordeal.

What's the point of a review system if you are pressured to always be positive? No matter the circumstances?


The incubation period for colds and flus is several days, usually about a week, so you wouldn't get sick the next day. Unless by "sick" you mean that you got food poisoning, but that wouldn't be from the owner's cough, but rather poor hygiene in the kitchen. Presumably the owner wasn't also making the food.


Actually, the incubation period can also be the case if it comes to 'stomach bugs'. It could be something you ate couple of days ago that is giving you hard time. It alway perplexes me how people immediately associate their stomach or intestine discomfort (and I am talking about something a bit more serious like diarrhea or vomiting) with the last meal they ate. Which also normally leads people to ban the restaurant, take away they ate from immediately.

How many times it has happened that you at the same thing as other people and you were the only one sick? Plenty, I am sure.


I misspoke. It was a few days between my visiting the restaurant and my getting sick.

This transpired a long time ago now.


I totally agree that coughing into your hands and then touching things that other people touch, especially in a restaurant is disgusting.

However the fact that you got sick doesn't prove anything at all. It could have been one of hundreds of coincidences that we come across every day that we don't really pay attention to until it matters.


I wonder if this is an American thing, just as calling even mediocre stuff awesome. In my small European country there are no such pressures.

I once left a 2 star review because we had to wait 15 minutes in a restaurant before we could order so we stood up and went elsewhere. Last week I gave a Uber driver 4 stars because he took other road than the GPS suggested and we ended up in a traffic jam costing us about 10 minutes.


I guess they were thinking that the owner probably didn't have a choice. When the restaurant is just starting, they probably didn't have anyone to take over for them.


The place had been open for about 1 year already at that point.

But even if it was their opening day... it is unacceptable to be cleaning tables if you are sick to the point that you're coughing everywhere.

Capitalism shouldn't trump common sense.


please please please rate bad drivers correctly. Number of times I've been in 4.7+ star ubers where the driver ran red lights is too high. Uber/lyft will definitely refund you if you let them know. Those drivers should not be driving for any service.


> I assume anything less than 5 stars is going to kill their work so I just give 5 stars

I do the same. I feel like Uber drivers are already living in a world that's way too close to that Black Mirror episode, and as someone who probably makes a lot more money than they do, I'm not really comfortable having that kind of power over them. I feel like rating them 5 stars is the least I can do for someone who's doing a difficult and low-paid job and doesn't really deserve to be under constant scrutiny.


There is a Black Mirror episode of this. People run around "rating" each other positively in fear that they might get a bad rating.

Only when someone shows weakness does the hive mind pounce and pile on the negative reviews.


It's like chickens, which will viciously attack any chicken that shows weakness (i.e. if it's missing a toe, it'll likely be murdered by fellow chickens)


> I have this working theory that we (people privileged enough to spend lots of time per day on the Internet) are getting close to being able to spend our time in fictional spaces

On this note, off-topic: I had a realization the other day that we are so close to being able to replace ourselves on a regular basis with our devices. Our devices are near-perfect proxies for our physical presence, especially with tech like video chat and interacting with our physical world via app or other digital medium. Especially for people like me, who physically carry their ID/debit card strapped to their device via wallet case.

I've been picturing ordering an Uber, and instead of getting in the car...I just throw my phone in the back! On some sort of video call. That driver knows where to take "me" - lets say my meeting. That driver can check who I "am" by checking the ID in my phone's wallet case, etc.

Obviously there are a lot of holes in this, what if the driver steals my cards, etc. What intrigues me though is the idea that our phones could be stand-in proxies for us. It gets even more interesting when you take drones into account...could I fly my device to a bank with my ID and debit card attached and request a withdrawal of cash via video chat?


> anything less than 5 stars is going to kill their work

Reminded me of the Black Mirror episode Nosedive. May be we are already there. On watching the episode I thought that would never happen. But things change so slowly that it feels completely normal later.


Yeah, this is a major problem.

I can't ever issue a chargeback on an Amazon charge, as doing so would risk thousands of dollars of Kindle books as well as some fairly important stuff in AWS.

(And no, a separate AWS account doesn't help. If they can link them both to you, they'll take action against both.)


I had fraudulent Amazon charges once and worked through their support. According to Amazon, someone had added my card to their account and bought stuff. They had already identified the fraud before I called, but hadn't bothered to let me know or initiate a refund (!?).

Their final advice was to initiate a chargeback on the Visa card with my bank (this wasn't an Amazon card) and they wouldn't challenge the chargeback. I confirmed 3 times with Amazon support whether this would be counted against me in any way. They assured me, no, it wouldn't. I don't believe them but did the chargeback anyway. So far, so good, but I'm super hesitant to do returns with Amazon anymore. These giants are really doing a good job training their customers to bend over.


I'm not surprised that went OK.

My concern is more the "I got a counterfeit, going through support didn't work" sort of scenario, where Amazon tells me they've investigated and don't agree I deserve a refund.


So, here's my story on this.

I am probably the worst Amazon customer ever.

I have had packages left outside my door (and stolen), I have had packages sent empty (like not opened... empty), I have called Amazon to complain about a microphone (and then found out it was the sound card output that was fucked)

Every single time they have sided with me. I'm sure they bring the banhammer on people who do really fradulent stuff but I've never had an issue with chargebacks.


Same story here. One of the major reasons I continue to buy almost everything from Amazon is the fantastic customer service I've always received. I've literally never asked for a refund and not gotten it, granted that's been < 1% of my total orders.


>as doing so would risk thousands of dollars of Kindle books

OT: this is exactly the reason why DRM/"licensed content" only harms legitimate users.


Honestly, a situation that bad should be handled through AirBNB.


Yes, maybe they wouldn't have banned me, as we had photos of all the evidence. However, I don't have time for uploading, describing, following up etc. Maybe a great idea for some conflict resolution startup? :)


> Maybe a great idea for some conflict resolution startup? :)

My inner cynic can't help but think this would be filled with the digital equivalent of vexatious litigants with the end result being yet another firm that will ban you at the drop of a hat.


At least a simplified complaint bot. In Sweden there is a bot that automatically makes a complaint about faulty parking tickets for you by answering some questions. https://botboten.se/


As opposed to the US version, which is more akin to this episode of The Simpsons - https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5VBiTHckkH8

"Thank you for calling the Parking Violations Bureau. To plead Not Guilty, press 1 now."

"Your plea has been [no pause] rejected."


I think simply giving them the feedback you just gave would be worth it.


Hah, I recently stayed at once which sounds similar. Was it on the Canada side?


Interesting, airlines in the united states will often give a voucher for a delay if you just ask for it, even if they legally don't have to.


Airbnb prioritizes hosts - even violent ones - because that's the bottleneck.

We had a scary experience where Airbnb allowed a VERY aggressive host with a documented history of violence to continue. The listing is still active today.

I wrote them a long letter with facts which began:

> I am sending this to make clear in writing that this listing is extremely unsafe for travelers.

> We were harassed, feared for our safety, and left early as a result of drunk management on the property. We filed charges with the Maui Police Department for harassment, and we have since learned that the host John [redacted] is a convicted felon who has had the police out for harassment, disorderly conduct, and resisting arrest before and has been ordered by the courts to "obtain and maintain mental health treatment or services, including anger management treatment or services, [or] domestic violence intervention".

> He has been in and out of court since at least 2004 and was most recently arrested on [redacted] 2014, barely a week before we arrived. I believe that the situation on this property is extremely unsafe and I cannot keep silent in good conscience, even though the host has threatened me and my family.

I detailed the event further for a page or so, and sent Airbnb all the prior police reports. The host was even using a fake wife alias to run the listing.

Airbnb's response was to refund us our money in full, but they never pulled the host, nor did they publish our negative review of the location. The only action seems to be that they required him to use his own profile instead of the fake wife's profile.

So it's much more than just prioritizing hosts over guests financially, Airbnb also prioritizes keeping a profitable host more than keeping guests safe.


Name and shame! Is there a site for posting bad experiences with Airbnb hosts, complete with their name and listing address?


I think you may be missing the point -- the one being named and maybe shamed in this post is actually Airbnb.


Also this post implies if you name and shame someone outside the Air BnB platform you get permabanned.


After getting bedbugs at an Airbnb last year, I was recently shocked to find out that Airbnb let the host continue to operate after our incident (which they also poorly handled). 2-3 people immediately after us also got bed bugs. Somehow this place still has 4.5 stars, even though we reported to Airbnb that the host was using mattresses meant to be donated to charity!


> is this all part of an ongoing trend, toward something like the Chinese Social Credit Score system, where the consequences of not maintaining a high rating are socially crippling?

Yes, except that at least with the Chinese social credit system you presumably know what your score is and what rules you are supposed to follow.

I expect that Airbnb, Facebook, Google et al will find it highly profitable to maintain and monetise lists of how credit-worthy / reliable / conscientious / conformist people are. Their neural nets' verdict on you will be both opaque and unchallengable.

> We’re becoming increasingly dependent on a handful of major tech giants to get through our basic daily routine. Imagine waking up one day and no longer being able to check your Gmail, buy things on Amazon, or book an Uber.

Quite. Do anything the new corporate oligarchies don't like, and you're an unperson.


> Yes, except that at least with the Chinese social credit system you presumably know what your score is and what rules you are supposed to follow.

It's not like "don't talk about what really happened at Tiananmen Square" (or an equivalent message) is explicitly taught.


This sort of thing is why I don't use Airbnb, or similar services.

If I want a professional hotel experience, I stay at a hotel. If I wanted a less predictable experience from people playing at running a hotel, I'd stay at one of these amateur hotels.

To be sure, there are excellent hotel-grade Airbnb places. But just like there are excellent Uber/Lyft drivers, there are others who are simply cosplaying taxi driver.

It's the nature of the "gig economy." And why I avoid it.


"If I want a professional hotel experience, I stay at a hotel. If I wanted a less predictable experience from people playing at running a hotel, I'd stay at one of these amateur hotels."

I really appreciate a nice hotel and often opt for that, however the ability to rent an entire freestanding home (or flat) is a game changer for families and groups traveling.

I find that there are some pretty simple heuristics you can employ to avoid these bad airbnb experiences ... the quality of the home/unit can instantly be assessed by looking at the bathroom and kitchen pictures. If you see shower curtains, you pass - if you see glass shower doors, you proceed. A high end surface and a nice range/stove in the kitchen pictures tell you everything you need to know about the unit.

As for the hosts, never, ever book with new hosts and always discuss things over the phone and get a sense as to whom you are dealing with.

The nicer and more expensive the unit, the better the experience you will have.


There's plenty of local property management companies that handle short term rentals. At least in tourist locations. We've been renting full houses for large groups since before the Internet..


And they all list their units on AirBnB now.


>As for the hosts, never, ever book with new hosts

Ain't that a bit of a bootstrapping problem.


Luckily enough for "power users", not everybody considers the motivations or risks around a gig economy. So there's always going to be some set of users out there willing to go through the vacation wood chipper that is a bad host.


When I was traveling solo for a prolonged period of time, I occasionally booked with new hosts. They were substantially cheaper, and you could usually figure out if they were honest or not by having a quick conversation and carefully reading the listing. Never had any problems. At worst, the rooms were a bit dirty at times (which was fine by me). At best, they were some of the most attentive hosts I had, and I'm happy to watch their positive reviews grow over the years following my initial one.

There will always be people willing to take a risk.


Not everyone can have that luxury. I've stayed in a dozen or so Airbnbs in the past few years, from low to high end, and didn't have a single bad experience. It's always a lot less expensive than hotels in the same area, and in many cases a higher quality building and room than nearby hotels. Just no room service.

There's honestly not much that can go wrong with an Airbnb experience as a guest, unless you're doing some weird spa cycle arrangement like the person in this story did, are gambling on a first-time host, or have some bizarre fluke. If they lie about any of the amenities or anything else in the listing it's simple to bring it up with Airbnb.

I've reached the point where I can't find a single reason to actually stay in a hotel anymore, no matter where I'm traveling (internationally or in the US).


Luxury? I travel _a lot_ (been to 45+ countries and travel every couple of weeks for fun) and more often then not, AirBnbs cost more. A lot of my friends travel just as much, if not more, than I do, and we've all slowly moved away from AirBnbs as much as possible. ftr we don't mind AirBnb, and I've had good experiences with them. Also, we're not luxurious travellers, but we do so as cheaply as we can manage.

The main reasons (cost aside) are unresponsive hosts, late hosts, and incorrect details. I've never had any 'weird' arrangements either, just normal stays.

Hell, people's experiences like this person's are reason enough.


It's always a lot less expensive than hotels in the same area, and in many cases a higher quality building and room than nearby hotels. Just no room service.

That's interesting. Every now and again I'll look at Airbnb, just to see if it's changed much; especially if I'm trying to stay in an area with few choices.

Often all I see are spare bedrooms or studio apartments that people are putting online for more than the nearby hotels charge. I even remember seeing listings for couches, not even entire rooms. But I don't remember if that was Airbnb, or another service.

But room service, for me, is often a requirement. I'll pay extra for room service because with the way my business trips are scheduled, it's a necessity. Bonus points if it's available 24 hours.


Try getting bed bugs and Airbnb refusing to refund you... That said, I'm staying at an Airbnb against next month for the reasons you stated...


Honestly I don't think most Airbnb users are looking for a hotel like experience. They're looking for something in between renting an apartment in a foreign city for a month and a hotel--a genuine short term apartment rental.

I use Airbnb a lot, but I actually agree with what you're saying. If you want a profession hotel experience, stay at a hotel. Sometimes it's preferable to have more space, maybe a kitchen, and more privacy, even if it means giving up daily maid service, a front desk, or other typical hotel amenities.


I hope that 1) Airbnb will clean up their act and 2) conventional businesses will be able to respond to the market niche so people can get the lodging they want without fear of weird corporate reprisals like in the OP.


> there are excellent Uber/Lyft drivers, there are others who are simply cosplaying taxi driver.

I completely disagree with this. 99% of Lyft drivers pass the very low bar of being able to drive somewhere without getting into an accident, which is all most people care about when they need a ride.


Personally, while I dislike AirBnB for the reasons discussed in this thread, I don't rent places on AirBnB because of the gig economy or because I enjoy being in an apartment that has wardrobes full of other people's stuff. It's because I don't like hotels.

I like apartments, cabins, tiny "boutique" B&Bs and similar. I like not meeting any staff; I don't want room service or a spa or a gym or any other such services. I like not being in some obnoxious city center. I like to have a real kitchen with a dining table; I like having multiple rooms and maybe a balcony or private back yard. Those places are generally hard to find, are often marketed towards large groups (and priced accordingly) or rich people, and are often much more expensive than on AirBnB.

There's no technical reason why someone couldn't build a nice hotel like that, of course.


The last point in the article hits the nail on the head; power is being centralized in these large tech giants. It's not so much that they are inherently bad, but it's that there are quickly becoming no alternatives.


At some point they will be regulated like utilities. Which they might as well be in the future.

In the meantime imagine your electricity provider cutting your power because you gave a bad Yelp review to one of the people individually producing solar power and distributing it through the provider's grid. Or some other similar scenario.


I don't see any clear path for Big Tech to be regulated like utilities. Certainly not in the US.

The internet itself is still not even close to being regulated as a utility, decades after it became indispensable for our lives. So Google or Amazon? How would that even work?

This is a tough problem, and I don't think it's going to be solved so easily.


I think the path is there, we just don't really know how long it takes to get to that point. I gave electricity as an example because at some point is was also just a service provided by a private company to people who had alternatives. So it's perfectly conceivable that in 10-20-50 years such services will be considered utilities.

Electric, gas, water, sewage, trash, these all became utilities. The internet itself might also become one. Or some of the services relying on the internet like mail, shopping, accommodation, etc. I expect it will take a while though.


You’d only need California to do it, due to their economy size and influence.

Disclaimer: I am an investor in an Airbnb compliance management startup


> At some point they will be regulated like utilities.

Like the internet is? Oh...


It seems like this has some overlap with the recent Supreme Court bakery decision. Do you have a right to get a cake baked? To stay in a hotel? To get electrical service?


The bakery wasn't a monopoly. On the contrary, it was specifically sought out among many bakeries to make a point.

Also, the court decision was quite vague, tailored to a specific case and left future rulings open.


> The bakery wasn't a monopoly. On the contrary, it was specifically sought out among many bakeries to make a point.

Citation? This is the first I've heard of this. Certainly, of course, there were multiple bakeries in the area, but I've never heard that the bakery was specifically chosen because they knew that it would reject the order, and they'd go to court over it. That's not described in any of the court filings or news articles I've seen.


> it was specifically sought out among many bakeries to make a point.

According to the Denver Post, it was recommended to the couple by the person planning their reception: https://www.denverpost.com/2018/06/04/charlie-craig-david-mu...


FTA:

“The only reason that we chose Masterpiece Cakeshop was it was in close proximity to our reception restaurant,” Craig said. “The person helping us plan that had used them in the past.”


Supreme Court didn't make a decision on whether or not it's legal to refuse service.


I hope so, but given the current political climate in the US, I'm not confident.


> power is being centralized in these large tech giants. It's not so much that they are inherently bad

As power becomes more concentrated, abuse of that power gets more likely.


Benjamin Mako Hill has some really interesting things to say about how AirBnB displaced couchsurfing[1].

We could've had a world where people can stay anywhere in the world for free. Instead we let a bunch of VC-funded bros convince us that adding a gatekeeper to the short term rental market was a good idea.

We all need to think carefully about the consequences of our actions online, from building such applications to using them. I refuse to use AirBnB after being stuck out in the middle of nowhere and basically told to go whistle. I'm not the only person where the bad experience has been a result of AirBnB's handling of the situation, but it was us as users that enabled AirBnB to get into it's partial monopoly situation by evangelising so much for it in the early days./

[1] - http://media.mako.cc/hill-whither_peer_production-libreplane...


Couchsurfing and AirBnb are not even remotely the same.

Hosting on Couchsurfing is a way to meet other travelers and show them around your city, and most importantly, you don't get paid.

Hosting on AirBnb is a business. AirBnb is far closer to HomeAway and VRBO. These existed before too, but their usability was terrible and they were prone to scams.


The people running couchsurfing killed it themselves by changing from a non-profit to a VC funded for-profit business after accepting huge amounts of volunteer effort.

But yeah, they aren't really the same thing. There is some overlap since it could be difficult to cover every day that you wanted to visit (and there isn't always enough hostel beds available, which are closer to the same idea), but for anyone who really preferred AirBnB it was better for everyone that they not be on couchsurfing.


I like AirBnb because I have to pay, even when I'm sharing the house with other people. I don't want to feel obliged to entertain my host, which IMO is the implicit tradeoff when you're staying somewhere for free.


I've continually voiced my discontent with the way Airbnb treats guests vs hosts. Guests are completely disposable and I even had a personal experience I wrote about on medium as well for a long-term stay. Airbnb is the company that is going the way of too big to fail. As more and more customers complain cities will eventually be forced to regulate and potentially kill this company. It's quite ironic that Brian Chesky,the CEO, tweeted end of June about how wrong the travel ban is in America ( a ban that fails to provide clarity as to why some of the countries are on it) and yet Airbnb feels they are allowed to ban a user without providing any clarity as well.


Why would you ever agree to rent a place where you need to vacate it for 4+ hours every day? The experience with AirBNB sounds all around awful, but I'm honestly baffled why you would go along with such a weird setup.


Same reason someone would be willing to rent a pod with barely enough room for a sleeping bag and shared access to a toilet across the street: price

That aside banning people for external reviews is nonsense. What’s next, banning someone for speaking (literally talking) about their negative experience?


Isn't "banning" the user in this case simply declining to provide the service? If I were a house painter and, for whatever arbitrary reason, I decide that I don't really like you, I wouldn't paint your house even if you demanded it.

I have the right to not engage you. You don't have the right to compel me to engage.

As much as Airbnb made this worse that it had to be, I think the flip-side is much worse. Imagine if by some authority one individual was compelled to buy a good from or perform a service for another individual.


I disagree. This is not AirBnB deciding they just don't like someone. This is AirBnB deciding to ban someone because they gave a negative review. I think the world where you're banned from services for speaking honestly about them is far worse than the alternative. If we can't speak honestly about our experiences, then others simply are not capable of making informed decisions, and all of capitalism goes poof.


Wasn't that kind of the point of AirBnB in the beginning? They will facilitate an agreement between two parties for just about any non-conventional arrangement, often even if it flies in the face of local tenancy laws. And that worked great for some odd number of people. The platform has largely been taken over by traditional vacation rentals, and I wonder if this is part of the friction here - atypical cases likely just aren't worth the trouble for AirBnB moving forward.


It said “after booking the weekend, we were told we needed to vacate..”

So it seems like they didn’t agree to such nonsense. It actually seems that the host ought to be the one kicked off AirBnB for not providing the room being rented for the entirety of the agreed upon dates.


I wouldn't be surprised if it actually did mention this bizarre caveat buried deep in one of the descriptive texts somewhere. I've caught a few gremlins in some listings, like a "whole-place" that is really just a second entrance and private bath, or that time when there was a horde of cats, and it's my responsibility to keep them alive. There a tons of misleading listings.

A vacate-type condition really ought to be against the TOS.


From my understanding Airbnb is much cheaper than alternatives . The sharing economy basically functions on that premise and ignore the local laws.


If you're on vacation, you probably don't need to be in your room between 12 and 4pm anyway. You should be out having lunch and doing tourist things.


yeah and be sure to only flush the toilet three times a day; you shouldn't need more than that.


Cheap price?


Low price.

Price can't be cheap, because "cheap" already means "available at low price".


It also means "of low quality", so some disambiguation may be required.


Author learns a lesson as to why we regulated the hospitality industry.

Turns out rules are kinda necessary.


Do hotels have a regulation that says they're not allowed to ban customers?

Or are you just taking the opportunity to get on your soapbox to complain about AirBnB?


Yes, if you're interested you can look up hospitality law or innkeeper law. Airbnb and others attempt to replicate existing services while sidestepping the regulations in place, which of course makes them cheaper / faster because they don't have to deal with the regulatory burden..


I tried looking up both of these terms, and I didn't find anything about not being allowed to arbitrarily ban an individual from your hotel.


I was curious, so I did some searching regarding hospitality law. These results are generalized phrasing of the law, so you'd have to search further to get into specifics.

IRT the OP, it seemed as if they wanted him to leave the premises early. Forcefully removing a guest would (I assume) fall under eviction. This is legal[0] in certain circumstances. From [0]:

> Hotels may generally evict a guest and keep the room rental payment, despite the eviction, for the following reasons:

> disorderly conduct

> ...

The host's review attempts to call the guest disorderly. If we assume that the host's review was 100% accurate, I don't think that could be called disorderly. A hassle to the host? Certainly. Disorderly? Doubtful. Again - the host made an error with the time, and the host wanted the guest to leave early. It would seem that the guest would still have contractual rights to the premises for the full time.

[0]: https://travel.uslegal.com/hotel-liability/right-to-evict-pe...


The question was about banning someone from making a reservation, not about removing a guest.


Just the fact that there is legislation or government regulation spelling out conditions under which an eviction can occur means that judicial review is possible and we're not in a loony EULA-fueled scenario where people can be banned with no due process available. So they _can_ do whatever they want, but there's a predictable downside that will tend to get corporate policies aligned to a more reasonable standard. (IANAL.)


Eviction has to do with tenants, not hotel guests. Hotels don't need any judicial review to ask someone to leave. However, the police may decide not to use force in which case the hotel would have to go the judicial route, but usually not the case.

In order to avoid having to deal with eviction regulations, hotels or motels in many states actually require hotel guests to leave the hotel every 29 nights or however long the regulations come into effect that bring in eviction procedures.


My more general point holds. I did not mean that hotels have to involve a judge to boot you. I meant that because they are regulated and not in a semi-private legal gray area, there are more legal options available for someone than OP has with Airbnb, where he's bound by their special agreements that give Airbnb vast power.


Hotels can do the same thing by inserting that at the bottom of the registration form people sign at check in or in the app. They already might have. I'm just not aware of any laws that would concern a hotel guests stay other than having proper fire safety and ADA compliance.


The question was very specifically about whether a hotel can refuse to rent you a room. It was not a general question about how they can treat you once you're staying there.


IANAL, but besides the protected classes that have been linked below, the United States regulates the hospitality industry on a federal, state, and local level. For the guest, that means a legal recourse, and not a medium blogpost.

We can quibble about the word “banning”, but the fact remains that, for hotels, there is a body of laws “against [guest] injury, whether accidental or intentional“. For the tech giant that pretends it’s not even in the same industry, there’s just a patchwork of guidelines.


I'm still haven't seen anyone claim that you'd have legal recourse if the Hilton refused to rent you a room, unless it was due to protected class status. Wouldn't a person in that analogous situation be stuck with a blog post too?


I'm interested to know what these federal regulations are for hotels. And state and local ones I'm familiar with only deal with life safety measures and making sure hotels are keeping accurate records of the people staying in the hotel.


>someone gives a reasonable 2 cents

>another person screeches at him or her for having an opinion

>new commenter calmly rebuts the miscreant.

This is why I like HN.


Just like other businesses, the hotel owner can refuse a customer to rent a room.

One thing is different is there are multiple hotels, so you can go to a different hotel. But there is only one AirBnB.

As a hotel owner, I would love to get a system like AirBnB. Only rent rooms to those who give you good reviews and the hotel can write reviews about guest behavior. So that we can refuse service to those who are a pain in the butt.


I know due to Hampton's service guarantee, they keep a list of people who abuse it and are banned. But hotel owners should be forcing the franchise companies to setup a central database to track repeat scammers. Only reason they haven't yet is that the liability is felt by the owners, and the brands get to keep collecting their revenue regardless.


Who determines who is a scammer? Why wouldn't they add someone who left a scathing yelp review to such a list?


Obviously at some point, someone has to make a judgment call. But the system is probably setup so that a hotel guest that keeps making claims out of the ordinary frequency will be flagged for review or maybe even automatically banned. If someone walks into a room at 10 different hotels and is claiming bed bugs at each one and no one else is experiencing them at those hotels, then I'd be willing to bet they're trying to score free hotel nights.

Yelp reviews probably matter for local restaurants and small businesses, but probably not much for national brands which have their own inspections and quality assurance departments. I don't check the yelp review of Enterprise or Residence Inn, but I might for restaurant I've never heard of.


I'm sure there are pathological liars that scam corporations for petty gains, but I figure they must be dwarfed financially by insurance scammers that do intentional slip-and-fall accidents or have their car "stolen" from the parking lot or other ways to reap big insurance setrlements.


Not in my experience. You still have to win a case or have compelling evidence to force a settlement for slip and fall stuff, plus insurance is involved in that. Cars being stolen isn't a merchants problem unless they're selling secure storage for your car, which a parking lot isn't.

What does come up in hotels is people trying to get sneak extra people in, pets, claiming bugs, making too much noise and disturbing other guests, etc.



The linked law doesn’t apply to this situation. The banned person apparently wasn’t banned due to being a member of a protected class.


Fair point. I think the idea is that there is a due process, and legal recourse if your rights were infringed. The existence of these laws would make public accommodations at least think twice before denying service.

AirBnB is apparently avoiding these laws by putting forced arbitration into its terms of service.

https://www.forbes.com/sites/jordanlebeau/2016/11/02/racial-...


How is "we are not obligated to provide an explanation" a valid reason? Of course they need to state why you were banned? Dystopian nonsense. Stop using AirBnB.


The potential downsides are huge legal costs and the upsides are almost none, so any business is wise to keep their mouth shut unless through lawyers. Same reason why you don't comment on people you don't hire.


The same can be said for starting a business in the first place.

A business is "wise" to keep its humanity and treat other people with respect.


And we as consumers care about that why? It's not my concern that providing an actual answer might get them in trouble.


It's not, I'm just stating why I believe businesses don't always explain their actions.


The Black Mirror third* season social media hellscape episode starring Bryce Howard Dallas seems a more apt reference than the Jon Hamm as sexual deviant episode.

The smallest breaches of protocol snowballed into her becoming a persona non grata all while trying to please a system that doesn't actually care.


Season 3, no? https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nosedive [spoilers]


I stand corrected.


I too was banned for life from AirBnB – I don't really blame them, given the information available, it was fair for them to side with the host, who was their long term customer over myself who was a new user.

The apartment I was in had a gas leak while I was gone, the door got kicked in by the fire department and the gas was shut off. The replacement cost $1300+ – and I was out of a room for two nights. I refused to pay the fee for the door – that seems like something insurance should cover. I was not in the room when the gas was on, but I guess there's an off chance I bumped the stove and flipped it on – seems like that should not be possible, but I don't know.


I wrote a comment earlier this week about a Google user being locked out of Google. I expanded it into a story, peppering it with less than flattering stories about Google.

https://theandrewbailey.com/article/203/Insanity-Locked-Out

I haven't read any Kafka, but I'm probably a fan already.


I find myself using the word “kafkaesque” a lot more lately.


Please don't take this the wrong way, but you might want to reconsider your choice of colours on your bloggy. I found that blueish text on a blue background quite hard to read.


AirBnB is a shitty company.

1. Apartments are more expensive than Hotels. I've been to 20 cities and I have yet to find an apartment that is cheaper than an equivalent Booking.com.

2. This probably works, however, because it is cheaper to book the same apartment for 3-4 people instead of being a single traveler.

3. This makes the target customers of Airbnb problematic guests (imagine having 3-4 new guests to the apartment everyday). Probably why neighbors are complaining about Airbnb.

4. The prices displayed are way distorted. It is way worse than booking.com. The price on the search function is like half of what you'll actually pay.

5. Pretty much every property is 5 star rated. Pretty much every guest is a nice guest. Really? This cannot possibly be the truth and probably mean that the rating system means crap.


> 1. Apartments are more expensive than Hotels.

Why wouldn't they be? It's a different product. I like being able to prepare and eat my own food in a full kitchen. I like washing my own clothes and tidying my own bed. An apartment typically has much more space than the equivalent hotel room, with multiple rooms to stay in. I also don't need to interact with any staff, or see much of tourists (nor do I need to be in a crowded downtown area). For me, these are all benefits.


almost all of those requirements can be met by staying in hoStel


Hostels are generally dormitories where you share minimal bunk-bed rooms with strangers. I've never seen a hostel with its own kitchen, let alone its own bedroom.


About any good hostel I've seen had a decent community kitchen. Some of them habe private rooms, sometimes even with private bathrooms.


Of course. But I don't see the relevance when we are comparing between a private hotel room and a private apartment.


you must seen strange hostels, i haven't seen any without private rooms available


I'll just leave this here: https://www.airbnbhell.com

Coming from a guest perspective where I've had things go wrong during my stays, Airbnb has been absolutely horrible to deal with. It's literally gambling with your vacation, because if anything goes wrong you can count on Airbnb to take your money and run. Why do we give so much money to what is essentially a middleman that provides almost nothing of value?


The same story keeps playing out:

- A new "marketplace" platform takes off with a idealistic free-market approach. It's different enough from previous companies in the space that it doesn't get regulated, and it denies having any social obligation or responsibility.

- As more and more customers and - primarily - vendors come to depend on it, its hands-off approach becomes one of arbitration, and its relationship with both groups becomes exploitative.

- We get to start over at square one, re-learning the difficult lessons about consumer and employee protection that we've spent the last century developing.

This is going to keep happening until the government gets more agile at regulating nebulous and category-breaking companies. Uber, YouTube, Facebook (with news companies as the vendors), Twitch, AirBnB, etc.

Companies that invent new business models and break with preconceptions aren't inherently bad - that's potentially a great thing - but it becomes bad when regulatory laws can't keep up.

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