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Violated: A traveler’s lost faith, a difficult lesson learned (ejroundtheworld.blogspot.com)
952 points by foxit on July 27, 2011 | hide | past | favorite | 380 comments

Hey everyone - we were shocked when we heard about this unsettling event. We have been working closely with the authorities, and we want to reassure our community that, with the help of our security infrastructure, we were able to assist the police in their investigation, and we understand from authorities that a suspect is now in custody.

We've created a marketplace built on trust, transparency and authenticity within our community, and we hold the safety of our community members as our highest priority. We will continue to work with our users to stamp out those who would put that community at risk in any way. The vast majority of our community members genuinely respect and protect each other, but we urge users to be careful and discerning with each other and to hold others accountable through reviews, flagging and our customer service channel. Our hearts go out to our host and we will continue to work with her and with the authorities to make this right.

Emotionally devastating story, but it seems like there is an easy solution to this. Have AirBnb contract include an insurance policy (superseding the homeowners insurance) for the time of rental. Also, have Airbnb keep credit card info on hand and hold guest responsible for any damage. Pretty standard business practices.

I've had terrible experiences while travelling extensively and staying semi-permanently where landlords do anything they can to keep your deposit, especially when you don't speak the language so well. I'd not be comfortable having a stranger be able to claim I made some kind of damage, and it become some kind of paypal-like black-hole of unwarranted claims. Ultimately reading this, I feel so sorry for the host, as a random, rare victim of a dehumanizing crime. It could have happened on craigslist, or via a friend-of-a-friend. Not to say that AirBnB doesn't need to address this, but holding a large amount in escrow like a car rental deposit would be offputting to me (with car rentals there is clear evidence, and you do a full inspection beforehand, though I'm sure it's possible to get burned on this).

But an insurance policy would further cut into their revenue stream.

A credit card number doesn't help much when you're dealing with anti-social elements (they'll just use a stolen one).

I would imagine that homeowners being terrified of having their homes trashed by guests would also cut into their revenue stream, and, if the "97% of airbnb guests are wonderful people" bit is true, the premiums should be fairly negligible.

At the very least, it should be an option for property owners to purchase.

Even if you do have homeowners / renters insurance, I wouldn't be surprised if most policies have exclusions for operating your home as a rental.

"But an insurance policy would further cut into their revenue stream."

If the value of the service is so low, and the risk so high, that it's essentially uninsurable, then perhaps that's a sign that it's a bad business model.

Or, it just means that the insurance industry has not caught up with a new innovation.

What about regular homeowner's insurance? Surely there can be policies that can cover this kind of thing which a host can obtain on their own. AirBnB doesn't have to muddy their business model with doing insurance, let the insurance people do this.

I think this case of unofficially renting out your house/apt is difficult to buy insurance for. Most homeowner's insurance policies explicitly exclude damages caused when renting your house. You need a separate landlord insurance to cover rental, but you typically can't buy landlord insurance unless your property is properly registered/licensed/inspected by your municipality as a rental property.

In many places the business facilitated by Airbnb is illegal. New York state, Chicago, and many other places have strict hotel laws that forbid these kinds of informal apartment rentals. It is extremely unlikely that any one can buy an insurance policy to cover an illegal transaction.

If you read the Airbnb TOS you'll see that they are well aware of this and are just hoping that naive customers don't read the whole thing.

I expect the original poster's losses will not be covered by home owner's insurance.


There is virtually zero chance that a standard homeowner's insurance policy is going to cover an AirBNB-style rental. Rental insurance might -- I'm sure there are policies made for this -- but most people aren't going to have that kind of coverage unless it's bundled in some way with AirBNB as a value-add.

Um, then the anti-socials can just get a temporary/secondary card with a $500 or $1000 limit. Damage here sounds like it goes over $10000, it's not like you can put that kind of holds on people's cards for every rental you arrange.

At the risk of it being slightly poor taste to go down this tangent:

Given how rare this type of thing is, AirBNB could have a great extra source of income by offering optional insurance for an extra fee (similar to car rentals).

I imagine it's possible, but there's probably a whole mountain of paperwork and cost involved in insuring property in various countries.

We've created a marketplace built on trust, transparency and authenticity

Not if this quote from the linked article is true, you haven't...

airbnb.com tightly controls the communication between host and traveler, disallowing the exchange of personal contact information until the point in which a reservation is already confirmed and paid for.

No? It's built on. Controlling the communication is about avoiding "20% discount if you pay me in cash up front" scams, and yes, about protecting AirBnBs revenue stream.

It's a trade-off: This process enhances trust since you know your host doesn't get your money until you've checked in and found everything to be in order - and the host knows that the money is held and that he won't have to deal with late or no payment.

I don't get this focus on the personal contact issue. What exactly could the victim gain from having exchanged personal contact information prior to the booking, that he was unable to do after he got the contact information? He admits he didn't even catch that the guest misspelled his own name?

If someone comes from Craigslist, you can at least Google for their name, try to find a Facebook page, etc... BEFORE they enter your house. At best, the way it is for the author, she could have done some checking, but at that point the freak is already in her house.

> If someone comes from Craigslist, you can at least Google for their name

You mean a name. Who says it's their name? The reason that we trust AirBNB and choose to host travelers is because if we do come home to find all of our things missing, AirBNB at least has a credit card on file, and can at least prove to the police that someone was staying at your place?

> AirBNB at least has a credit card on file

Might be stolen especially in the light of this case.

No, after the booking is completed, still well before keys are handed over, personal contact information is made available. Sure, it's inconvenient if you have to turn someone down after researching them but after they paid, but that's hardly the issue here.

If effective protective measures can only be taken after the sale has been made / contract signed / whatever, then the marketplace really isn't providing "trust, transparency, and authenticity". In fact, it is actively working to prevent them.

But the author of the article makes a point to say this was too late a point in time, as they were already out of town.

He also writes:

If anything, I blame myself. In retrospect, and as I read through my initial email exchanges with Dj, I recognize now that something was “off” in his manner of communication, that I trusted too easily, and probably did not do my due diligence to properly protect myself and my home.

There is nothing in the article that indicates that the situation would have turned out any different if he had access to "Dj"s contact information earlier.

He could still have a fake Facebook account. Their method of trading contact info is not at fault.

IF they can catch this guy based on the information AirBnB collected when he signed up, then they're fine. If not they need to have a more strict membership sign up process so that if and when this does happen, the guilty can be made accountable.

This information is correct.

Hey brian,

- what's your side of the story on being unreachable 14 hours after the event?

- did you offer AirBnB credit or compensation to the victim to stay elsewhere during this?

To be fair I doubt the victim would be comfortable receiving airbnb credit or using the service again. If this happened to me and I was offered credit, I would feel insulted.

Purely pulling this out of my ass, but I'm hoping whoever took his initial call(s) just severely misunderstood the situation. Maybe people have had trashy guests or items broken and became irate over them, and that's what this person thought was happening. I hope.

I don't know the company's "side of the story", and would be surprised if it was ever really discussed in any way aside from steps taken to remedy this situation... But as this suggests, they apparently need, above their "urgent" number, a "Bat-Phone" for severe cases.

That doesn't matter. They are obligated to investigate each and every phone call to their fullest extent. Only if the same person called repeatedly could they even begin to think about the "boy who cried wolf" excuse.

Sure, I just mean to say that a person calling the urgent line because someone may have accidentally pocketed a key and the homeowner is concerned, is reasonable. That should be investigated.

But the guy calling with a police report on his entire place being completely trashed? The calls for the support staff to have a Bat-Phone to someone at a very high level, if not the top.

Oh I see, that's even better.

This doesn't specifically answer your question, but the post does seem to mention that financial compensation from AirBNB was offered:

"They have offered to help me recover emotionally and financially, and are working with SFPD to track down these criminals."

TechCrunch is reporting I spoke to Airbnb about EJ’s situation. They won’t reimburse her for damages, they say, and they do not insure against losses. They are helping police track down the person who did this, but their help ends there.


I love that the entire investment community is gaga over this company.

So they sold a fad product (cereal) at the right time to make a little bit of money. Just tells me they have no moral integrity (which explains the craigslist email spamming).

So they struggled to make rent in SF a while. Who told them to stay in an expensive city with no savings? That's bad financial planning, and they could've bootstrapped their startup in Austin.

Oh, and they made a startup that is illegal in many parts of US, and manage to dupe investors to give them hundreds of millions. Now they won't even give financial help to a girl whose life they help tear to shreds.

Sounds like upstanding company/fellows to me.

My opinion is that the service is questionable. The fact that there is no way to contact a person until they accept your credit card. My friend paid for the stay, contacted a person via website, the person replied yes and asked to call him to make arrangements. Ended up, that nobody realized that nobody can see contact information. The day was waisted. So when my friend wanted to delete profile from airbnb, it is not allowed. So all we could do was telling about the horrible experience. They do not have detailed terms and conditions on the site, and all what a person should be aware of. I guess that they really do not care about customers. Like I heard from other people, this is like a typical startup from silicon valley, a new bubble. I guess we need to look at that in a positive way. So they just need to get enough money to get a lot of advertisement. Nothing will kill a horrible product faster that a good advertisement.

How is cereal a fad product? What's wrong with catering to fads?

I think it's presumptious to assume AirBnB owes anybody anything. The renter knew (or should have known, if not retarded) the risk she/they were taking. And AirBnB cannot literally be responsible for every single human being's action who is a party to their service. The person that, allegedly, trashed/robbed the place is clearly the person who did something evil and illegal. Blame the perpetrator, not a middleman or scapegoat.

You know, the problem is that unless AirBnB is willing to pick up the tab on this sort of thing, they dramatically increase the risk associated with using their service.

Regardless of their legal responsibility, I would think that it was in their best interest to pay up in this type of situation. For example, a guarantee of say $10,000 for any damages (which AirBnB can then try and recoup from the perpetrator) would go a long way to making people feel more secure about renting out their apartment. That, along with a warning to store personal documents off-site, would reduce this type of event to being more of a nuisance than absolutely destroying someone. I would even think that that $10k limit could be waived in exceptional cases like this one.

Thanks for taking care of it, also good to know they got a suspect.

What can you say on the 24/7 "urgent" line, which sounds like an important feature even for cases less dramatic than this one?

This seems to be the crux of the issue right here. When I heard the airbnb business model, this type of situation was the first thing that came to my mind. Airbnb absolutely does provide an incredible service, but these types of issues need to be solved. A 24/7 line should be step 1.

> When I heard the airbnb business model, this type of situation was the first thing that came to my mind

Same here. Great model, glad it works for some people, but the only price I'd take to rent out my house - with my personal items in it - is the price of replacing my house and personal items.

<meta>Too bad I have to post this instead of just showing my approval of these comments by upvoting them</meta>

Exactly. No insurance will cover this type of transaction if the informally renting out your place is illegal in your locale. On top of that, you have to worry about your own safety. 99.999% of the time you'll be fine, but taking that risk is a very personal choice.

What I would like to see and would think would be a great win for AIRBNB, publicity-wise, is an offer to restore this person's stuff.

The difference between a hotel and a home is that while a hotel may be trashed occasionally by the drunk rockstar, there is nothing sentimental in the hotel room. Screening is not going to stop someone pathological from unleashing wanton destruction. Even ordinary renting out houses usually require some kind of bond to be placed to deter and filter out riff raffs. I wonder if AirBnB would ever do this because it increases the transaction costs dramatically. On the other hand, it is a nice cash "float".

Screening won't help, but a credit card imprint sure goes a long way.

Have you considered doing more to confirm the identity of someone?

Airbnb has done a great job so far, but I think there needs to be some more effort put into validating the renters information. There are several ways to do this via online identities, credit cards, etc. The other option I would definitely add is a specialized rental insurance of some kind. An additional $10/night across all rentals should help pay for situations like this along with the basic broken item situations that I know you deal with. Let the homeowners decide if they want to charge/pay that fee. Then it is in their hands if they choose not to.

Airbnb's review system sucks! Why are there no dates on any of the reviews? What determines the order of the reviews? In my experience, I've seen more recent negative reviews get pushed below older positive reviews. Why are we not allowed to sort the reviews by date or rating like on any other reasonable review system? This is the opposite of 'transparent'.

Although there have been negative PR effects for Airbnb due to this incident, it appears that they have benefited as well, by wisely using the lesson learned to improve their business by adding essential insurance and pre-deal inter-member communications services, among other things. The future value of that benefit to a start-up company most likely far exceeds the damages suffered by this host, assuming the PR issue can be positively resolved. There was no similar benefit for the host, unless you count the lesson learned that they should avoid the sort of activity your business is built around.

So here's a suggestion: acknowledge publicly that this incident exposed ways in which the service could be improved and offer to make this one host whole as compensation for that value. Solves everybody's problems in one fell swoop without accepting blame for something that isn't Airbnb's fault (and more importantly without resorting to blaming the victim - not the host's fault either). I'll bet it would cost far less than the usual media blitz companies commonly use to repair their images after incidents such is this. Consider it a good investment in the company's future.

It's a lot easier to do routine stuff well than to deal with unique situations like this. AirBnB has done the latter, and has proven again that they're a great organization with excellent customer service. Congratulations and best of luck with resolving everything successfully.

i call bullsh1t on that.. havent seen airbnb do anything about this 'unique situation' that isn't contradicted at every turn...

A novelty account? Just to join the schadenfreude pile-on? How cowardly.

I am both a client and host with Airbnb and know from whence I speak. Airbnb offers a really great service, and the guys who founded it are genuine. Many learning experiences are painful, as was this one. Missteps are inevitable as a company grows. It's unfortunate what happened, and their response could have been more immediate. I think they will make steps to adjust and and protect their most important commodity, their hosts.

I always found AirBnB's model based on a surprising amount of trust - I for one would never be comfortable just handing over they keys to my place to a total stranger.

Even if they didn't ransack my place completely, as happened to the unfortunate author - I would be concerned about unintentional damage to my property that I might not discover till too late. Renting out something as private as my primary place of residence just seems like a generally bad idea, especially when I am not around to constantly check in on it. Even if I got to meet them, and they seemed like nice people whats to stop them from leaving without paying if they accidentally broke my TV ?

As the service expands, and becomes more craigslist-y (in terms of audience) I can only see problems like this getting worse, and apart from implementing some kind of guest / host rating system (like ecommerce portals do with sellers) I see no clear solution to the problem.

As the service expands, regular people's homes (with unrestorable personal value and charm) will be replaced with commercial properties using airBnB as just another advertising channel. When that happens the fresh appeal will be gone and airBnB will be successful if they have become popular and stable enough that an airBnB listing is mandatory for people in the property management business.

I hope this happens soon.

The risk/reward trade-offs don't seem to be understood by most AirBnB landlords (99.99% chance of earning $100, 0.01% chance of losing $50k+). Even though this is strongly positive expected value, for a family that can't afford to lose $50k this is a game of russian roulette.

My heart goes out to the author of this; I hope the person who did this to her is put in jail, and the system (AirBnB) that enabled that person prevents landlords who can't afford the financial & emotional risk from listing properties going forward.

This is one those places where laws make sense to me; the average person needs to be protected from unknowingly gambling with their family's future.

> This is one those places where laws make sense to me; the average person needs to be protected from unknowingly gambling with their family's future.

What kind of laws do you suggest?

At the very least requiring theft/fire/vandalism insurance for people renting out their home.

Also interesting: limiting vacation rentals to accredited investors.

(edit: and requiring places like AirBnB to verify those requirements before you can list with them)

Why don't you start a business that offers competitive insurance packages to people who want to use airBnB (and similar products) instead of demanding a law that obviously would have a lot of unwanted side effects on people who _do_ know about the risks they are taking by entering this business?

Protective laws have very high hidden costs. These costs are hard to quantify and routinely are neglected when discussing pros and cons of said laws.

Car insurance is different, because it also covers damages you inflict on others and other people's property.

I am speaking out against mandatory insurance of your own property. Yes, there will be cases where people are underinsured. But mandatory insurance would make some people overinsured. There is a long argument to be made for balancing this tradeoff, but in short: Owners are in a better position to judge whether they should insure their property than lawmakers and thus it should be up to them (again: as long as their property doesn't have a high probability of damaging other people; in such cases mandatory insurance might be reasonable).

It's very easy for younger smart people to be anarcho-capitalists (which I take it you are), but IMHO becomes progressively harder as you age.

The basic problem is that a "people know what's best for themselves" policy screws over dumb people for the simple reason that they don't.

Car insurance is a very interesting thing to legislate, because although the expected value of buying insurance is slightly negative, when you factor in the economies of scale on dealing with someone else's car getting repaired (figuring out if a bill is over market, handling multiple bills, tracking any medical expenses, etc), purchasing car insurance is strongly positive EV.

I think landlord insurance is similar.

>> Car insurance is different, because it also covers damages you inflict on others and other people's property.

Landlord insurance of course also covers this (if your property catches fire while you're renting it out, you may very well be legally responsible, if a previous renter breaks in and steals the new renters belongings you are probably legally responsible, etc).

Regardless, it seems based on what you said that you might be in favor of requiring renters to buy insurance. Is this correct?

No. I wasn't even making an argument for mandatory car insurance. I was merely pointing out the difference to mandatory property insurance and said that this difference _might_ be the basis for a convincing argument in favor of the former.

Are you against requiring car insurance to drive? (another situation with a small chance of a large loss that most people can't afford)

If yes, please explain why. If not, please tell me what's different here. I'm genuinely confused why you said what you said.

Usually the only insurance you're required to have is for damage you do to others, not your own car. You're allowed screw yourself over.

But if the driver who hits my car can't afford insurance or the repairs for my car, then the other driver has screwed me over.

Rental property insurance is not a brand new idea.

Probably not worth to be codified as a law, after all, some may choose to bypass it, but other than that there are plenty of companies selling it (vacation properties and rentals existed long before AirBnB), and AirBnB could benefit from linking to those vendors.

Of course. I didn't mean to say that she/he should actually start an insurance company. I wanted to point out that there are market-incentives that might motivate someone to offer such a service without the need for a law.

I think you are dramatically overstating the risk at 0.01%. Suppose past performance predicts future results. AirBnB has had, what, 10 million rental deals? And this has only happened, as far as we can tell, once. That's not an 0.01% risk. It's more like 0.000001%.

Overstating the risk by a factor of ten thousand is a very substantial exaggeration.

It's hard for human beings to understand very large and very small numbers, so to put that in context, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Road_traffic_safety says about ten people are killed per billion vehicle kilometers in most developed countries, so perhaps five people per billion passenger kilometers. So you have a one in ten million chance of getting killed by riding about twenty kilometers in a car.

Surely you would not advocate making laws to "protect" "the average person" "from unknowingly gambling with their family's future" by traveling tens of kilometers by car, thus possibly orphaning their children?

Update: Airbnb's new post http://techcrunch.com/2011/07/27/on-safety-a-word-from-airbn... says "undermined what had been – for 2 million nights – a case study demonstrating that people are fundamentally good." If I take that to mean that 2 million nights had been booked via Airbnb to date, then I underestimated the (frequentist) risk by a factor of around 350: 2 million nights are only a quarter of a million weeks, so this is a one-in-a-quarter-million chance, 0.00035% rather than 0.000001%. Also, my original figure, "It's more like 0.000001%," was wrong; that would have been one in a hundred million, not one in ten million. And the original "0.01%" was an overestimate by only about a factor of 300, not ten thousand.

So the risk of this happening to you is not like the risk of dying by traveling 20 kilometers by car, but more like the risk of dying by traveling 700 kilometers by car.

(Of course that's assuming that past performance is some kind of a guide to future results. It could be that all kinds of tweakers are going to get on Airbnb now and trash things that one of their friends has had a taste, or it could be that future people thinking of doing this kind of thing will be deterred by the rapid arrest of the apparent culprit in this case.)

> I think you are dramatically overstating the risk at 0.01%.

Perhaps, but the chance of losing >$100 one way or another (negligence, accidents, outright theft) is going to be a lot greater than 0.01% anyway.

That split seems wrong. There seems to be no deterrent to the type of behavior the author experienced, so it would seem that everyone with an inkling will try to steal the renter's identity. I'd estimate that population to be 1-3% of people, which implies the expected value is strongly negative

> As the service expands, regular people's homes (with unrestorable personal value and charm) will be replaced with commercial properties using airBnB as just another advertising channel.

This could happen (especially if people get scared off by one-in-a-million crimes like this one) but it isn't economically rational. The marginal cost of having someone stay in your spare bedroom is often very small, even negative. This is never the case for commercial hotels.

I would go as far as to say that commercial hotels only exist at all because of an information deficiency: on the traveler's side, about the available spare bedrooms, and on the host's side, about the trustworthiness of the traveler. (Except in exceptional cases, say, Gualeguaychú, which has enormous tourism, dwarfing the city's population for a few weeks a year, and nothing the rest of the time. But I still stayed in a spare room with some random family I met on the street when I went there for Carnaval, not in a hotel.)

It occurs to me that the people with the strongest incentives to trash someone's apartment like this would be hotel owners and managers. Many of them might not be willing or able to do it themselves, but they could certainly hire someone else.

>will be replaced with commercial properties

They won't be replaced, just added to. Many travelers prefer the local flavor to some sterile hotel.

Same here. I'd be more than willing to use the service as a customer, but as a host? Never. If you're a customer the worst of the worst than can happen is you lose the rental fee and have to find a hotel. As a host, the worst that can happen is this.

No, the worst that could happen is the host is a psycho who wants to murder / rape / take nude pics of you without you knowing.

There's a reason hotels exist, and there's a reason why it's a bad idea to hitch-hike, or even worse, stay with people you don't know.

Everything in life carries risks. Trusting strangers is nice. I'd rather live in a world where I can. Then again I live in a place where people leave their cars unlocked.

Sure, but the whole premise is that you're traveling. Going to unknown territories.

If I'm going traveling, I'm sure as hell in "untrusting" mode since I don't have a clue what the locals are like.

There's strangers as in "local resident I see each day but don't know", and there's strangers as in "I've just traveled to a completely different country and have no clue who this person is"

Wanting to trust everyone and believing majority of people are good is a nice hippy dream. There's some nasty horrible people out there.

> a nice hippy dream.

Bullshit. Live in fear of strangers your whole life or trust the basic humanity of strangers. Either way you're still going to die of heart disease like the rest of us. Why don't you live in constant fear of that?

Stranger danger is a result of a fear-mongering media. Are you seriously worried about serial killers? Do you know how few of them there are and how freaking many people there are in the world?

People love to live in fear of things like strangers because it's immediate and controllable. They can just choose to stay away from them. It gives people a sense of control. Heart disease is long-term and amorphous. It's harder to gain immediate relief from fear of that.

By all means, don't leave a bunch of cash around while staying at a stranger's house. Take reasonable precautions. But fearing people by default is irrational.

"Live in fear of strangers..."

Strawman. I don't live in fear of strangers. They don't haunt my dreams or make me break out in cold sweat or make me stop going places. But I keep my eye out, because I am not stupidly naive about it.

It's not as irrational as you think, either. The majority of people are decent, or society wouldn't exist at all. However, the non-decent ones tend to seek out travelers and other people who can be victimized. This is why the best advice to give to your kids is that they can probably trust anyone they walk up to if they have a serious problem, but anyone who approaches them for anything out-of-the-ordinary should probably be treated with great skepticism. Statistically speaking there are many situations, such as traveling, where you are disproportionately likely to encounter the non-decent types. Ignore this fact at your own peril.

I also believe it is much worth to live with a strong faith in the good nature of people.

However I believe one should not indulge in it.

This faith is very precious and this is exactly why it is a sin to rely upon it in the wrong circumstances. I live in Japan, that has a very low crime rate, but I found it very interesting when they told me "Don't leave anything valuable at the office. There is very little chance that something might happen, but can you imagine how you will feel and act towards your colleagues if something happens..." What you value you must protect. Although it sounds controversial, this means that it is your obligation to protect your faith to the goodness of people from the ones that could destroy it.

I don't live in fear. But I'm not going to go stay with random people thankyou. They might be in a cult for a start.

I'll take my hotel room thankyou.

This family bicycled 26,000 miles over 43 months and didn't run into a single one of those nasty horrible people. Maybe they were extremely lucky, but I like to think you can't live your life worrying about the few nasty horrible people.


For an alternative anecdote see this 2008 BBC article: "'World peace' hitcher is murdered". http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/7344381.stm

A woman hitchhiked through the middle east dressed as a bride to promote world peace and was murdered and raped.

Are either of these anecdotes indicative of people's experiences when travelling? No. Is there potential danger in relying heavily on stranger's good intentions? Perhaps.

People generally don't like outliers. If not-so-decent people see someone not like them (probably noticeably better), they would have a natural desire to make them harm. At least of envy.

Me too (live in a place where cars go unlocked), but last night I watched a burglar open my passenger door, sit in the seat and look around. I never put valuables in that car, so I wasn't concerned if only for the awareness that my neighborhood is not as safe as I once thought. I shouted at him from my second-story window and he took off like a bat out of hell. The cops came and I now lock the doors on my beater every day.

Absolutely. The few times I've been surprised by the kindness of strangers stand out to me as some of the most pleasant experiences of my life.

A guest can only needs to steal credit card details to attack the host. The host needs to steal a whole house. That might be possible (through, say, AirBnB), but I doubt it would be easy.

Agreed, though I see a lot of people using AirBNB for guesthouses, rooms in their house (where they'll at least be at the place), or investment houses. Those scenarios seem less risky.

Was this a total stranger? It would make a lot more sense to me if it was an ex-lover or people put up to it by an ex-lover or otherwise someone with a personal vendetta.

Put me in mind of this story: http://www.nytimes.com/2011/07/26/nyregion/a-revenge-plot-so...

AirBnB already has a host rating system, but because of no set level of expectations pretty much everybody gets 5 stars. Hotels are easier to rate in that regard, and people have no qualms leaving lower ratings if they don't see extra towels, have to sit in uncomfortable chairs, or are charged $14.99 for wireless Internet.

Guest rating system is even harder, as unless you're hardcore traveler, your use of AirBnB might be limited to once or twice a year. This would also penalize any new user to the service.

I can't believe anyone would rent out their home. I assumed most people rented out spare properties, not their primary residence.

I get angry when I realize I will never again be who I've always been before, someone who lived strong and free by the creed that people are essentially good, that if you think optimistically, trust others.

Please don't let them steal this too.

I'm really sorry for your bad experience, but remember:

  - You can still live strong and free.
  - People are still essentially good.
  - You can still think optimistically.
  - You can still trust others.
It's true, you will never be who you've always been. But you can be almost the same person, still optimistic and trusting, just a little less naive. You many not realize it now, but the time will come when you may actually appreciate this as a learning experience.

There are bad people out there and some of them will want to hurt you. You don't have to sacrifice who you really are because of them. You just have to live a little bit differently.

Don't let them take away you really are. Believe it or not, that would be much worse than what they've already done.

Lots of well wishes for your quick recovery.

> - People are still essentially good.

Out of every 100 people, 98 are absolutely wonderful human beings, 1 is an asshole, and 1 is a lunatic. My experience out of doing retail for a few years.

Note that these can be the same people on different days.

So it's possible that actually all 100 people are assholes.

Only in the same sense that we can say "intenex wears a diaper" (because you were once a baby). Defining somebody by an off moment is one way to look at things, but I'm not sure it's particularly reasonable.

Depends on the type of moment... I like Lord Acton's exhortation to "judge talent at its best and character at its worst".[1]

[1]: http://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/John_Dalberg-Acton,_1st_Baron_A...

I think that's good advice in general, but you'll miss the point if you stick too closely to it. You kind of have to weight your judgments. I mean, yes, a guy who beats his wife if he's had a bad day at work should be judged pretty harshly based on that. But if you-at-your-worst is somebody who is kind of grumpy and maybe a little bit selfish, you're a whole lot better than somebody who constantly acts like a crabby miser.

Even then, I know plenty of people who are never assholes, even in an off moment.

Great observation !

I think the wonderful human beings are also lunatics. Just some a less extent than others.

> People are still essentially good.

Experiment indicates that the majority (65%) are not: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Milgram_experiment

I am sorry to be a downer, and I agree that it is nice to pretend that people are essentially good. Ignoring the Milgram results, however, leads us to forget why we have to maintain societies with complex crime deterrent schemes, and why we should not trust anonymous individuals who cannot be located for punishment.

"[H]alf ... were female, and their rate of obedience was virtually identical to that of the male participants." "Where participants had to physically hold the "learner's" arm onto a shock plate, ... 30 percent of participants completed the experiment."

"I don't think that means what you think it means."

That experiment deals with ability to disobey authority, not with the basic goodness of the people performing the actions. Nearly 100% of the people performing the actions questioned what they were doing. That indicates they knew it was wrong, instinctively and didn't wish to do it. But we are well trained to listen to authority, and the authority figure was telling them to continue.

This actually backs up the idea that people are essentially good. But it also provides evidence for the idea that most people can be easily lead into violating their natural conscience.

Studies of innate "goodness" performed on children reveal that most people, from birth, have an innate moral conscience that we would consider 'good'. I'll see if I can find a link to back this up.

Here we go: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/01/science/01human.html?adxnn...

I wouldn't call someone that acts against their conscience "good" (unless their survival is at stake).

Depending on what you're thinking the authority can do, "for survival's stake" may very well be exactly what those people in the Milgram Experiment were experiencing. "No, I-I can't, b-but he's in authority, and I'll be in trouble if I don't, so", he cringes, "I must."

The Milgram Experiment doesn't indicate that it in any way threatened the participants for non-compliance, yet these people were willing to knowingly endanger someone else's life. I think why they were willing to do that lies more with the belief that the authority would take the blame rather than any reasonable fear of punishment from the authority.

My guess is that they were rationalizing it in the experiment context. "The authority is telling me to go ahead, there has to be something else going on here. His life can't really be in danger."

The mere presence of authority could have been threatening to some people. We'd need studies for this too, though.

I don't find it that surprising, given that we are taught from birth to obey authority figures (parents, family, teachers, policemen) /without question/. It's perhaps a useful simplification in early life but is one I've long-considered harmful.

>given that we are taught from birth to obey authority figures (parents, family, teachers, policemen) /without question/

One of the important aspects I'm trying to maintain with my kids is a right to reply and express their opinion. My eldest's teacher goes against this, she demands "do it first time" whilst I demand a response - he can refuse but he can't ignore a request, if he can reason his way out/in to something then that's far better IMO than blind obedience.

It can be a useful simplification in the sense that one needs a child to obey commands like "don't touch the hot stove" and "don't run in to the road" ("stop" covers both).

It's important to teach children to obey authority figures. It's also important to teach them critical thinking skills and learn how to detect when a thing is arbitrary. However, instead of teaching the child to disrupt the authority in place, I think it is preferable to teach the children to obey unless there is a moral imperative against doing so.

For instance, while your son's teacher may assign him some silly work, while there is no reason to do this work other than the teacher said so, he should learn to work within the framework and do the work anyway because he is subject to the teacher in his current circumstances. If the teacher, however, assigns him to physically harm another student or participate in another morally objectionable act, he should refuse to comply. Things go much smoother this way than they do if people are constantly nagging and arguing over things that really have no incident; much energy could be saved by both your son and his teacher by compliance with non-useful but non-harmful requests rather than disrupting the flow of instruction and encouraging further disorder and disrespect to authority.

It's INCREDIBLY important to teach children to obey authority figures WITHIN REASON. If a teacher, cop or fireman is asking your kid to do something that doesn't seem quite right, their first instinct should be to ignore them, and get help from someone they know. The only people a kid should blindly obey is their own parents.

As far as I know, very few people teach their kids that it's OK to question authority (within reason - and yes, respect authority always. If you're in a teachers classroom, you follow their rules.)

>I think it is preferable to teach the children to obey unless there is a moral imperative against doing so

// I'm not teaching my kids to be anarchists ;0) But equally well I'm not happy for them to be drones or to accept the word of others without reflection on the truth/moral good/right action.

>while there is no reason to do this work other than the teacher said so

// That's a pretty good reason and one that, within the school framework is hard to argue against. The only sorts of arguments that will work against such reasoning are those arguing for a greater moral good or similar.

>Things go much smoother this way than they do if people are constantly nagging and arguing over things that really have no incident;

Who decides what has no incident. Things that matter to one don't to another.

Let me give an example of the sorts of issues that he currently has to address, they're pretty low level: The school has a policy where the teachers lead a class out at a time from the building to be met by parents/carers. The teacher tells them to put their coats on, but it's often too hot to do so and my lad is there in summer in a jumper and coat (causing a minor harm to himself) because he's being obedient. Weather here is very changeable. His jumper and coat should rightly be in his bag. I say he should tell the teacher "it's too hot to wear my coat, can I put it in my bag please". The teacher is possibly menopausal and may be having difficulty assessing the temperature - should he just put his coat on, or should he make a [albeit small] stand with the possible outcome being the greater comfort of all the class [ie they wear appropriate levels of clothing]?

>disrespect to authority

I don't consider it disrespectful to question someone’s reason or motive in giving an instruction. Indeed if you can't explain why one should carry out your instructions then you need to question them.

I could be wrong but I think the child questioning the reason to put on a coat in hot weather today, if they learn to reason an argument, is better equipped to question those who have authority in more vital questions tomorrow.

If something has no incident then why demand it's fulfilment?

One of the examples I normally bring out for this is the case of me being told off by a teacher for insisting that my spelling of a word was correct and theirs was wrong. This (excuse for a) teacher insisted that it had no bearing at all that my spelling was indeed correct, and that I was in the wrong for disagreeing regardless. Needless to say, I adopted a slightly different teaching style.

I guess that not all parents teach you to obey. I always knew that you never should talk to police, never whistleblower to teachers or anybody, be positive and keep to yourself until you asked for help. It is just people, especially authorities are negative. If you say something to the police, they will use it against you.

That doesn't seem to be the conclusion of said experiment. "In Milgram's first set of experiments, 65 percent (26 of 40)[1] of experiment participants administered the experiment's final massive 450-volt shock, though many were very uncomfortable doing so; at some point, every participant paused and questioned the experiment, some said they would refund the money they were paid for participating in the experiment." IMHO Milgram's experiment has more to do with obedience than ethics.

So people know what they do is wrong and do it anyway. How does this make people "good"? It makes them knowingly evil.

Or they felt trapped by their agreement to participate in the experiment. They made an offer to annul the contract, which would indicate that they were following through with what they had agreed to do. Moreover, the situation they were in was greatly outside their experience with what people had ever asked them to do in fulfilling an agreement.

If you promised someone "I'll do whatever it takes for you to have a good time while you're visiting", you probably aren't imagining that it will involve a triple homicide and a liquor store robbery. If it starts there, you'll likely refuse. But if you slowly build up to that, the pressure to keep complying with your agreement builds....

I am familiar with the psychological phenomenon you are referring to, but these people were not forced to do anything; they clearly considered it wrong; and yet they proceeded. Feeling trapped isn't being trapped. Being rude to a researcher is not as bad as physically injuring an innocent person. Excuses do not change the fundamental reality that people commonly do things they know to be wrong and suboptimal – we are so far from perfect agents! Improving this through rationality is the whole purpose of e.g. lesswrong.

You mention LessWrong, very nice; then you know they were forced: any time you deploy the Dark Arts to manipulate someone's behavior, you undermine their free will. "Choice" wasn't part of it, or at least not the largest part.

People react wildly differently in different circumstances. This has been proven over and over. The Milgram experiment was heavily designed to influence how people act. A twist in circumstances can easily get 100% of people to do the "right" thing. If you only look at extreme cases like this, you won't get an accurate idea of human behavior.

I think it's fair to say that the vast majority of people, in normal circumstances, are essentially good.

Certainly, you can get nearly 100% of people to do the right thing most of the time. That is what judicial deterrents accomplish. Those don't work if people are anonymous, however.

The Milgram experiment was not intended to be "extreme". They expected less than 3% of participants to actually torture their (fake) victim to death. The U.S. group was to act as a control, such that they could proceed to compare results in Germany, for instance, where the Holocaust had so recently occurred. Following the unexpected American results, Milgram simply did not bother to perform the actual intended experiment in Germany.

Every day I see people act nice and behave well even though it would be trivial to be a dick or a thief with no appreciable consequences.

In real life, under ordinary conditions, most people simply act decent and it does not seem to be fear of punishment.

That experiment shows you exactly the opposite, rather: that people who seem essentially bad (i.e. bad in essence) may simply be responding to circumstances, incentives and social pressure.

Most people are able to think 'this would make me feel awful, I don't want to make someone else feel this way' - those that aren't are usually canny enough to pretend.

People might not be essentially 'good' - but most people are rational and lucid enough to stay within the bounds of what's socially acceptable .. even if they're unable to empathise.

This was a random nutter / group of nutters .. stuff like this, unfortunately, happens all the time - although, thankfully, on a minimal scale.

The issue for me, is related to some fundamental flaws in AirBnB's business model .. flaws which are seem largely absent from the alternative of CouchSurfing.

I agree. They should do the same experiment and replace authority with $$. Maybe they did but I cannot find reference.

I think you will see 60% of people will do horrendous things for a little bit of money.

People are generally good, but there is no bar so low that 99% of humans can not be convinced to slither under given the right circumstances. The world is full of horror.

You're very optimistic. While I don't agree that people are essentially good, I envy your ability to see the world that way.

I was sitting here mulling over why you wouldn't think that people are essentially good and it dawns on me that a lot of people are scared and likely have behaviors that suggest they aren't good (e.g. drive by someone with a flat tire in the rain because they are scared it's a robbery setup for passer-bys)

I think if you just look at your day to day interactions, most people are decent. I doubt many people are trying to rob you, hit you or actively steal from you. Sure there are outliers, but the majority don't do this.

Lastly, as a reformed paranoid "everyone is out to get me", I would make the observation that the energy you put out there has maybe 70% to do with the types of reactions you get back.

A friendly, open-faced "Hello" gets a hell of a different response from a shrouded, closed off, nervous "Hello".

Try and be more free for 3 days and see if the experience you have with others is better.

Hey, don't get my wrong! I'm probably one of the most cheerful and happy people you'll ever meet in real life. I'm always smiling and enthusiastic with everything I do. And you're right - people tend to (usually) treat me the same way. Everything is beautiful on the surface, and that's just about never where I have a problem.

I've been betrayed by a lot of people I trusted, and I've had to do some things (not for my own good) that I'm not proud of myself. I'm in the process of blogging it (http://shenglong.posterous.com/a-prelude-to-eternity), but unfortunately, it's very long and I've only had time to finish the prelude. In the end, I've seen what people are capable of when they think they can't be held accountable, and that's the primary driver of my cynicism.

Regardless, I still treat every person I meet with respect. It's just, in the back of my head, I'm cautious about what could happen.

Edit: I don't know if I can post links like this. If not, let me know and I'll edit it out. It's for reference, not for publicity.

I hope you continue your blogging, as it seems like quite an interesting story. It sucks you've been betrayed so many times by those you trust, but I hope you don't lose faith in your fellow humans.

It truly saddens me to know people don't believe in the innate goodness of fellow human beings.

Having said that, I have an overdeveloped sense of vengeance, and I do not trust the law to protect me suitably. I wish I were better at the approach taken by Gandhi, but I have not internalized his wisdom yet, though I recognize it (so that gives me hope).

I think most people are good but not because it's innate. I think humans are like electricity, seeking the path of least resistance. Attracted to pleasure, averse to pain, people judge circumstances and weigh their options according to what they think will be the most pleasant / least unpleasant set of consequences. Skewed by their predilection for short-term or long-term consequences. This results in people being essentially good, but not because it's intrinsic but rather because "good" generally has more positive consequences associated with it than evil.

"Should I steal this?" is always weighed more heavily against "Will I get caught?" and/or "Will this cause me guilt or affect my self-worth?" rather than "Is it wrong?"

Interesting story, keep it up. I submitted it at http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2816167 on the chance it reaches a wider audience.

Maybe it's the difference between "people act good most of the time" and people truly being good. I don't think the vast majority of people are up to something criminal right this moment, but I might be less confident that 99% of people are motivated by good intentions. "Good intentions" and "not a criminal" are very different standards, but that's the point.

The fear thing made me think something else entirely: does it count as being good if a person acts good out of fear? (Of being caught/punished.) Everyone's answer to that question may also colour their views on peoples' goodness.

This just reminded me of an interesting idea one of my highschool teachers proposed: mother that doesn't love their child, but still performs all of her motherly duties because she feels a responsibility towards the child?

Is she worse than a mother that loves her child? Is she better because she can 'do the right thing' even though her feelings might opposed?

I'm not so sure about this. People might know what is good (for the most part), but in weakness it is violated, and in strength it is often ignored to pursue self-interest.

Let's just say that, I've been betrayed, and I'm very aware of the circumstances needed to be betrayed by people I care about -- some of them are impossibly extreme (and some aren't so much), but they do exist, and you do have to navigate that. Whether the person would be apologetic or not after the fact really doesn't enter into it.

If one lives, I think you automatically develop protections against other people. I think that you've set up a protection zone around yourself just like everyone else. But it's a good one -- instead of withdrawing, you simply force the surface interaction to be a positive one (as much as you can). Sometimes this translates, sometimes it can backfire. For what it's worth, I think this is the right way to go. You can be wary, but still positive about your interactions.

But there's a necessary bit of detachment -- I can wave to people on the street, but I'm not going to let just anyone into my apartment.

I'm with you, but I'm not so sure that it's not that people aren't good, but that the human race is inherently selfish, and many of the good ones are afraid of conflict.

IMHO There are bad people out there and some of them will want to hurt you. You don't have to sacrifice who you really are because of them. You just have to live a little bit differently. means don't use AirBnB

If the implication is don't use AirBnB, then the implication is also: never leave your own home and never let anyone in, which is paranoid and absurd.

You might object that what you say applies only to strangers and not to those you trust, but then you would be forgetting that everyone you trust was once a stranger.

Simply walking down the street is a testament to one's notion that in general humans are good and that that goodness is worthwhile enough to risk the occasional social or even physical injustice.

That doesn't follow at all.

First, I'd like to be clear that I'm not advocating for or against AirBnB (and my sole experience as a buyer of accommodation via AirBnB was positive).

It should be transparent that different actions have different levels of risk and reward. Often by accepting higher risk (e.g. accepting the risk of letting strangers into your apartment) you can get higher reward (e.g. some money, a sense of community and connection, etc). But risk is risk, and so you can also get anti-rewards, sometimes huge ones (home ransacked and burglarized and vandalized, identity stolen, sense of life violated, etc).

If you want to draw conclusions from events like this, they should be about modulating your risk tolerance, not about setting your risk tolerance to zero (which is incoherent anyway). You might decide that although things like this happen, it's a risk you're willing to take. Or maybe not. You might decide that if you're going to rent your apartment out to sight-unseen strangers, you're going to put all your identity documents in a safety deposit box first, to slightly limit the maximum damage. Or you might decide that that would offset the benefit too much, and thereby just go back to the no-renting-to-strangers option. Or you might decided to take martial arts lessons, and not let strangers in. Or you might decided to install security cameras, with real-time transmission to offsite backup, so that if something bad happens you'll always be able to strike back and regain a sense of control. Whatever. All of those options are coherent alternatives, and all are a far cry from 'never leave your own home, never let anyone in'.

It's certainly true that simply walking down the street requires trust, and it's certainly true that transforming strangers into friends is a process that requires risking trust, but both of those _can_ be done with very small trusts. Or they can be done with large trust, which has greater risk, greater possible reward, and greater possible injury.

There's a difference between all of those and giving a person you've never met free, intimate access to your home.

Sometimes things go very very wrong. That's why they invented insurance.

Most people act 'good' most of the time. That's why this whole society thing stays cohesive. But, everyone has a probability to act badly. Just consider someone who may have had a stroke that considerably changes their personality.

A small portion of people act 'evil' under more common situations.

It's odd that airbnb doesn't seem to risk mitigate these sorts of black swan events. They wouldn't lose much having a 100% loss redemption clause. It would seem that the property owner would be much less likely to game the system than the visitor.

Key takeaway from your story: you're still healthy and unharmed. All the material stuff is superficial, the only thing of real value is you.

>All the material stuff is superficial, the only thing of real value is you.

Our house was broken in to by youths looking for drug money. It took me a couple of years to get over the sense of not wanting to trust people.

The sense of betrayal was considerably enhanced by two factors - I was on a neighbourhood committee with the mother of one of the youths that broke in; an amount of cash was taken that belonged to a group that we volunteered with to help children on the estate from whence the youths came.

IMO the greatest harm was stealing [for a time] my trust in others.

People kept empathising with me as to how violated we must feel, how awful having people in our home. None of that mattered to us really though.

The vast majority of People are good yes. The main problem is that most people stop caring too quickly. On a multidimensional empathetic scale they stop caring with a nigh exponential drop off the further away from the this and now the other person is. Once someone's genetic and then phenotypic expression is far away from theirs, once the spacial, chronological and cultural locations etc. are diverged; people stop caring enough. Sometimes the person that they do not care about is their future self.

The keyword is enough. Certainly if everyone was too empathetic that would neither be good. But I do think the world would be a better place if more people did not set the line of when to stop caring and empathizing so close to Now and Me. If they picked a slightly less steep atttenuation function then we would not have so many perfectly good people that were bigoted Xist bastards when it came to topic X. or peopele who were just following orders. or just having a bit of fun. or well at least it is not me. or on and on. for example.

You might also consider taking a look into this: "Don't punish everyone for one person's mistake"[1]


I haven't watched the linked video, but the word "mistake" in no way applies to this situation. This was an entire week devoted to thinking up ways of being cruel to another human being.

The fact that human beings are capable of spending "an entire week devoted to thinking up ways of being cruel to another human being" when the other human being has been nothing but honest and welcoming is why I believe that we are an inherently evil species that doesn't deserve its place on this planet.

Someone once said (can't for the life of me find the quote), that the difference between a good man and an evil one was that the evil one did the things that the good man thought about doing.

But you can be almost the same person

Some people are very badly affected by trauma. But most do get over it and the almost same person is actually a wiser slightly more careful person. A bit less idealist, yep, but that's growing up.

The guests sound like drug addicts. (Maybe meth? Tweakers do bizarre things like move furniture at odd hours or burn fires without opening the flue.)

I've been a happy AirBnb guest on a few occasions; the one time I had someone's whole usual studio apartment I found it a bit strange how much of their life was left on display for me – like the host's prescriptions still in the fridge! – but of course respected their privacy.

Each time I've been a guest, we've seen photos of each other on the site, and the keys were handed off in person. While I didn't expect anyone to stop by and check on me during my stays, I always had the impression the host or host's friends were nearby.

A guest with criminal intent would try to pick a place for a longer stay, in a more anonymous building, with a host known to be out-of-town. But then again, that's also what someone seeking to burglarize any vacation-emptied residence would do. More or less this same sort of crime could happen without AirBnb, or perhaps be enabled by nothing more than tracking public tweets/'check-ins' to predict unit vacancy.

(Another development I eventually expect in this progression of tech-mediated sharing: a bad-faith host who surveils their guests.)

I too would guess the guests were meth addicts. I had the unfortunate experience of moving in with some tweakers and some of these behaviors gave me flashbacks.

It's a hell of a drug -- my roommate was once a normal young professional, but methamphetamine use turned him into a monster with bizarre, destructive habits around the house, and dark, evil plotting against friends and us roommates.

He would be sober and make normal plans to go to work, fix up the house, have friends over, then he would get really high and skip work, destroy the concrete floor by "power washing" it, and throw a tweaker party with loud music at 3AM, and threaten everyone that asked him to turn it down.

There was violence, abuse, and damage to the property. I removed myself from the apartment for my own safety, and ended up forfeiting thousands of dollars in security deposit for what he did when left completely on his own.

I obviously don't know the situation here, but all of a sudden my thoughts of again hosting CouchSurfers or AirBnB guests is shaken. There are some bad people out there, made even more unstable with drug use, and these sites offer a vector in which they can enter your life.

I assumed the drug addict thing too, but to me (although I have limited experience with people on drugs) the fact that they took the time to communicate that "everything was okay" to the host (and had the money to pay for all this (although I guess $500 upfront if they're going to steal $2,000 worth of stuff is an "investment" (I guessed at those $ figures))) makes me think it's something more sinister. They'd have to be pretty eccentric even for drug addicts to go to these lengths.

Speculation alert ----------------------

Could be drug addicts. But my hunch says it could be some known persons to the unfortunate host, playing some dreadful prank. Reasons:

1) From the blog: 'All the while, Dj Pattrson was sending me friendly emails, thanking me for being such a great host, for respecting his/her privacy…. telling me how much he/she was enjoying my beautiful apartment bathed in sunlight, how much he/she particularly loved the “little loft area” upstairs… with an “lol” closing one sentence' This suggests motivation to cause a greater hurt. Thieves will just steal. Drug addicts may not punctually mail all the while.

2) Also I suspect the name DJ Pattrson, may have been carefully chosen. Note the author calls herself 'EJ' (and 'DJ' sort of rhymes). I tried jumbling Pattrson for some meaningful word, but could not get any.

Definitely tweakers. I wouldn't use that sink near open flame for a while.

Dude, did you just predict that AirBNB is going to be used for mobile meth labs?

AirBnB can be used without issues if you own a property and you're willing to operate it like a hotel: you're present on the premises to check in the guests, you have a room or a reception-like place from where you can monitor the situation, and you're able to inspect the place when they leave.

Operating a property remotely via AirBnB implies all sorts of risks, which makes me think that it might be an unsustainable model, because a black swan event might ruin the property to such extent that it offsets the income made in all the other cases.

AirBnB handles property promotion and property booking on the Internet -- that's fine -- but when it advertised itself it included in the message ways to do property administration (as in rent-your-home-while-away). While this is not connected intricately with their core business, it is the model that some owners assumed by default, without realizing the risks involved or the fact that you are still exposed to one-in-one-hundred unpleasant events.

If they manage to warn about this upfront similar to the way Craiglist does, without losing their brand and their community support, then owners will become aware of those issues and take the necessary protection (by i.e. requesting guarantees/deposits/passports or by using their social network to validate the guests). If they don't, I'm afraid a couple of bad PR articles will be enough to destroy their reputation.

P.S.: I haven't heard of hotels managed remotely; there are some hotels where you check in automatically and you get the keys via some sort of robot system but in the morning there is someone handling the checkout, the cleaning etc. In addition they have your credit card on file, your passport, probably your cam photo when you picked up the keys and the most you can destroy is a hotel room (still a great deal of value but somehow limited and the hotel probably has insurance for it). But automation didn't pick up at scale in the hotel industry. In the current state, it thrives partially because the reception provides the safety-checks and balances needed to prevent and offset these black swan events. I'm not sure the remote administration model is scalable or even manage-able due to this.

Um, this is incorrect. Hotels are vandalized all the time... having a "reception-like place from where you can monitor the situation", and "inspect[ing] the place when they leave" doesn't prevent people from trashing your room/apt.

It sounds like the person who trashed the OP's apartment /enjoyed/ trashing it -- it didn't sound like someone inconsiderate, or in a hurry; it sounded like someone who deliberately and knowingly ruined the place. The security measures you suggest won't stop that sort of attacker.

>Um, this is incorrect. Hotels are vandalized all the time...

that is the point why they take down your credit card data before giving you the keys. Your vandalizing after that is just an entertainment your card will be charged for.

>The security measures you suggest won't stop that sort of attacker.

so you think the attacker has perfect credit history and there is absolutely no sense in checking it?

I'd expect they used a stolen card (or a stolen card number, more likely). There's almost no way anyone could be stupid enough to do that with their own card.

Probably a stolen card from their last airbnb rental/trash/steal creditcards.

Or a prepaid debit card (do those work with airbnb)?

The interesting thing will be the gmail account's IP history. I suspect SFPD will get the IP history and I hope this DJ Pattrson logged in from an identifiable location (or that the phone number, presumably a prepaid, is linkable to location and identity somehow).

SFPD is one of the better police forces to have to work with on this; I'd sure rather be dealing with them than Oakland or various other East Bay police forces. You might also want to involve REACT (http://www.reacttf.org/), the Silicon Valley (incl SF) high tech crime task force. They'll be good at tracking someone down through online identity, compared to local police.

I wonder if AirBnB has offered the host/victim some AirBnB credit to stay elsewhere while her place is being de-trashed.

Well the solution there is not to accept a credit card as a form of identification.

I check into lots of hotels and about 50% of the time they require an actual government-issued photo ID; I assume for room-trashing situations and the probably more-common situation where somebody racks up a huge bill and then steals away in the middle of the night leaving nothing but a stolen CC number.

It's a lot more difficult, and the legal penalties are much steeper, for forging a government-issued identity document than for using a prepaid credit card with a false name on it.

You're giving thieves and vandals far too much credit. For most, if they had the intelligence to get away with the crime, then they'd have the intelligence to know not to commit it.

I hate to break it to you, but people are this stupid and do try to use stolen credit cards for hotels all the time.

I actually feel a lot more comfortable "harshly using" (not really vandalizing, but making full use of) a hotel than someone's airbnb, couchsurfing, or friendly couchsurfing arrangement -- because it's an impersonal commercial space, I'll use all the water I want, leave wet towels all over, etc., whereas at airbnb I feel like I should be even more polite and neat than I would be in my own home.

Interesting point -- I wonder if people who enjoy breaking things are more likely to use AirBnB, since they're destroying something that really matters to someone.

Wow, these shitbags need to get help.

I've said "to prevent and offset". It's about managing the event (offsetting the bad cases when prevention fails). Having a reception area allows you to have their signature on the contract, to validate their identity (name, nationality, passport) based on the photo ID and how they look in real life and to have on record a lot of validated information about them (which will sure help with police and insurance in case something bad happens).

You said "can be used without issues".

I agree identity validation, and being there to hear loud noises/odd behavior makes it harder / less fun for an attacker -- but this is not what allows hotels to operate effectively. Some percentage of hotel registrations surely occur with stolen passports, etc. Hotels rather build this cost into their business model in a manner similar to an insurance company.

Because hotels rent so many rooms at a time, they can treat these costs in the same way that your car insurance company treats accident risk -- something that is always happening that can be offset in real time by honest people using the hotel as per the contract.

Letting people into your home does not have that risk-sharing property -- it's insuring a single driver instead of tens of thousands -- you open yourself up to a very real risk of losing a lot of money.

(Not to mention that hotels are not personally attached to the rental rooms).

...and perhaps most importantly of all, a witness who can stand up in court and say "Yes, that is the person to whom I gave the keys to room 314".

But if you have their passport and secured their credit card info, you can report them to the police, and perhaps keep them from leaving the country if the place was trashed totally (ie burned down the building maliciously)

So if you register and book via AirBnB you will see that much of that information is required (email, credit card, and billing info specifically).

The attacker in the story must have somehow gotten stolen credit card information...

A hotel is likely to have CCTV in the lobby, full time security, contacts with local police and lots of institutional experience dealing with disruptive guests. All things that the average part-time innkeeper doesn't have.

This isn't really a 'black swan' event.

A black swan event is something that is very difficult to predict,often because it lies outside normal parameters and expectations.

Renting your place out to strangers who then trash it might be surprising, but hardly beyond the realms of imagination or expectation.

I always thought that AirBNB seems like a great way for unscrupulous addicts (Heroin etc) to get lots of things and leave.

How is this:

"... emphasize that the customer service team at airbnb.com has been wonderful..."

reconcilable with this:

"...My next call was to airbnb.com - I tried their "urgent" line, their email address, their general customer support line. I heard nothing - no response whatsoever - until the following day, 14 sleepless hours later, and only after a desperate call to an airbnb.com freelancer I happen to know helped my case get some attention..."

Does that mean you'd have to know someone who works at AirBnB before you can get customer service? I've heard similar stories about Google, too.

Customer service was apparently wonderful... after they were able to get ahold of them.

One of their suggestions was that airbnb add immediately a 24/7 customer service line, which would have fixed the initial delay.

Moral of the story: By using a service like AirBnB to make some cash, you are Rolling the fucking dice. It's naïve to think otherwise, and if you're not comfortable with that kind of risk, don't do it. It seems some people see the service as "easy money" and don't consider outcomes like this.

I think it's best compared to hitchhiking: Is it cheap? Hell yes. Is it consistant/reliable? no. Is it as safe as a bus/plane? usually yes, sometimes no in a big way.

I travelled in my youth (5 years ago :p) around several states via thumb. It was a calculated risk I was taking, and both I and other hitchhikers I knew were aware of this risk and took steps to mitigate it (carrying mace, turning down rides– one friend would take a photo of the plates and text them to a friend each ride, informing the driver that he/she was not anonymous).

AirBnB is like this: you save/make some money, but rather than a Hotel (or bus company) being on the hook for a bad outcome, YOU are on the hook. If you're not prepared for that, don't do it. It's not "easy money."

AirBnB makes us travelers vulnerable to being scammed as well. In the most recent rental, it really was a roll of the dice to see if we were going to have an apartment or not (and of course, by the time we could have contacted AirBnB to say we'd been scammed, the scammer would already have our money, due to the way AirBnB works, and their lack of any way to contact them.)

I travel full time. I'm a nomad. I would rent thru AirBnB for 365 nights a year if they provided the service that they originally set out to provide. I think they changed their focus, and rather than building an organic community of people renting their places to each other, they are pursuing the expensive travel market. This makes sense given the profits are higher and it is easier to get vacation rentals in the system than individuals. But they're not the ebay of travel anymore, they've become a HomeAway clone.

They also really need to change their policies on communication- they inhibit our ability to talk to the owners before renting, and this is worsened given that many owners may not speak english. Letting us call them or email them is not going to want us to cut AirBnB out of the deal, because the primary value AirBnB provides is the fraud protection of letting us pay by credit card.

There's no reason for any company of this size not to have a 24/hour hotline. It may be midnight in california, but it is 5pm somewhere. You have listings around the world.

AirBnB's priorities seem to have shifted away from building an organic "ebay of travel" with regular people to maximum growth in revenue, by going after the high end travel market, with a distinct lack of customer service. This may not be intentional, but I'm part of the market-- a heavy use part of the market- and that's how it is looking to me.

So, 24 hour hotline, policies for dealing with things that go wrong, to help customers, and letting the people use the site communicate are the changes I'd make. I bet you'll find that more communications means more confidence and more nights rented.

Agreed. Couple of days back, I went through one AirBnB competitor http://www.quora.com/Airbnb/Will-Agriya-Burrow-be-a-threat-t... There comments suggest that HomeAway model is better and also they're adding SecondPorch.

I initially thought that their comparison http://www.launchfeed.com/launches/view/1308830151 is weird. But, that makes sense now.

I remember a while back, someone on HN commented that they preferred the AirBnB model to CouchSurfing; because they felt that they were under no obligation to spend time with their host, or try to repay their hospitality with a meal or gift.

CouchSurfing relies upon (and in turn reinforces) a culture of good-will.

Because AirBnB converts the CouchSurfing model into a simple cash transaction - I think a lot of the positive norms that are inherent to CouchSurfing are lost.

Exactly, it seems much harder to blatantly vandalize the home of a like-minded person who personally welcomes you into their home, offers to show you around etc. than the fancy loft of some faceless traveling businessman. Also paying for something tends to give certain people a sense of entitlement.

Of course none of this makes what happened to the poor person in this case OK or even remotely acceptable. Nonetheless, I think understanding why things happen is a good step towards coming up with a solution.

Maybe if AirBnB can get some of the personality of the Couchsurfing community, it can get some of these positive norms that go with it as well. The trick would be how to do that without losing the low social barrier to entry they have now.

I am non-representatively paranoid, and have always been afraid of this kind of thing when having guests not personally known to me, visitors to "open house" office events, etc. I think there is little actual risk with almost anyone as a guest (most people ARE good, or at least non-malicious, or at least lazy), but this is why the AirBnB reputation system is so key to their value (and why they'll have a strong network effect).

Maybe the effect of this will be to make people want personal connections (via fb graph or whatever) to their AirBnB guests, or at least requiring minimum numbers of positive reviews from known sources (to prevent the sockpuppet/shill issue).

I wonder if your renter's or homeowners insurance might cover this kind of thing. If it doesn't generally, it'd be awesome if AirBnB could work with a third party insurer (per jurisdiction) to offer optional insurance to hosts (and guests) against this kind of thing.

I suspect home owner's insurance would not cover this since they would probably see it as an unlicensed rental. I've thought for a while that Airbnb will need to develop an insurance system. I'm sure that lesser incidents of property destruction / theft are far more commonplace (carpet stains, cigarette burns, appliances damaged, "borrowing" something that doesn't get returned) and I've thought dealing with such is going to be eventually crucial to making the model sustainable over time.

And then, of course, there are going to be rare catastrophes like this one -- or worse. Eventually, if the system gets large enough, there will be a sexual assault case. I wonder if Airbnb has pre-baked disaster scenario plans. Eventually they'll have to deal with the emotional, PR, legal and political fallout.

It's still one of the things that keeps me queasy about listing my extra bedroom. I'd guesstimate the replacement value of the contents of my apartment is circa $50k and I'm loathe to gamble with such.


I'd be more worried about a guest setting the house on fire, by accident or not. Fire-damage can easily clock in north of $500k. Good luck explaining the AirBnB concept to your insurance company after a stranger turns out to be "not available anymore" (stolen CC, etc.).

A thousand times, yes. You'd be insane not to carry at least a half million dollars in coverage for fire loss in a city like San Francisco. I think my own rental insurance covers something like $1M, and they explicitly don't cover losses incurred to property that I'm renting to others. That's another class of insurance -- much more expensive, because the risks are so much higher.

I think you have to be incredibly naive to rent out your personal apartment on AirBnB. The downside risk is virtually unbounded (and lest you think I'm exaggerating: what happens if a tweaker AirBnB renter burns down your building, and your neighbors die in the fire? Hello, civil judgment.)

It'd be awesomer if AirBnB just replaced all the material things that are replaceable, relocated this person, and in general made them feel happy/safe again. One time only, introduce a better model to prevent/mitigate/insure (as you suggest) for future occurrences.

As long as it doesn't start resulting in people 'burning down the place' for the 'insurance' money.

Why was the title of this post changed? It used to have the name "airbnb" in it earlier this morning, around 400 votes.

When submitters rewrite titles of posts we almost always (if we notice) replace them with the original title. We've done that since HN started. Otherwise submitters compete to make attention-getting titles, and you end up with the frontpage of reddit.

As someone who has submitted non-linkbait titles and had them edited to be less useful, I find this annoying. You should stop doing that.

Otherwise submitters compete to make attention-getting titles, and you end up with the frontpage of reddit.

That sounds like an excellent matter to leave in the hands of the users who vote for/against stories.

The purpose is to prevent it being left in the hands of users. "Linkbait" is named as such for a reason.

It's just too tempting to not reflexively upvote a juicy title.

Noticed that as well. changed because of bad PR perhaps?

Is there any way to find out who changed the title? The submitter or admins?

Most likely admins since, IIRC, a submitter has only a short time window to edit a submission.

not cool.

Well… I don't know.

Sure, it's easy to think "look, YC changed the title because it gave a bad light to a YC company!" and that might be part of it.

But the truth is that this story only got the spotlight here because it had AirBnB in the submission title, but the events it describes are not really specific to AirBnB. It could have happened through many other rental services.

Also it's typically frowned upon changing the title of a post for the submission.

"But the truth is that this story only got the spotlight here because it had AirBnB in the submission title, but the events it describes are not really specific to AirBnB. It could have happened through many other rental services."

That doesn't make the original title in any way inaccurate. Is this like saying, oh my Google apps account was compromised and all my business data was leaked - but really its unfair to post a story "My Google account was hacked", it could have happened to any online service.

A poor excuse for deflecting what is obviously a problem with their service. Is YC simply going to moderate posts about their own startups at will? Especially when everything is, fact for fact, true?

>Is YC simply going to moderate posts about their own startups at will? Especially when everything is, fact for fact, true?

I had a HN account for a few months, my posts were getting generally positive responses. Then I made a comment containing criticism of the YC startup the article was about. I think it was fair criticism, I just gave my reasons I couldn't trust their service enough to use it. It was my highest-rated comment ever, and sparked a fair bit of discussion so I think the community tended to at least agree that I had a point. The next day HN got a lot slower and every new comment I made stayed at 1 point permanently and were never replied to. It seemed funny, I was used to getting at least a few points on my quickest made comments. When I logged out everything was fast again and my new comments were nowhere to be seen. I had been shaddowbanned and slowbanned.

So your question should not be "Is YC simply going to...". They already do that.

Hi, I'm the submitter, and this was my first submission to Hacker News. Thanks for letting me know (both you and pg) about it being frowned upon to change the title - I'll know that for the future. As he states, it was changed for me. (The original I put in was "AirBnB: Crimes committed against a host".)

I do have to disagree on the likelihood that this particular scenario would've happened to the host through other rental agencies. For her explanation as to why, see paragraph 14 overall - or paragraph 4 under the heading "This was my home" - in her post. She addresses Craigslist; to add to that, I know that VRBO and HomeAway (the two major entire-unit vacation rental sites) accept payment for the host's listing only but absolutely everything else is left between the two parties, including verifications, contracts (if any), and payment method. The key relevant difference between those sites and Airbnb is that Airbnb blocks both host and guest from exchanging outside contact and identity information until a reservation is completed through their system. The reason for that is obvious, as Airbnb is a different business model, and needs to ensure that they receive their percentage for leads they provide. But one result of that policy is that taking independent security measures are impossible until both host and guest are already obligated and on the hook (hosts are penalized by appearing lower in the listings if they cancel a confirmed reservation from their end). The victim admits her naivete in thinking that because Airbnb demands to handle several aspects of the booking, that there are other levels of safety and verification implicit that in fact do not exist.

So yes, hosts can get ripped off using other listing services as well. But it is also made readily apparent that one should protect themselves on those sites, and users aren't actively blocked from gathering information to do so.

So, I'm still not entirely clear on this - did you change the post title?

No, I did not. "As [pg] states, it was changed for me."

Ah I missed pg's post above - well, a valid point, as long as the title reflects the original blog post title it seems fair. Editorializing / sensationalizing is always a problem (but one that affects blogs themselves, not just re-posting portals like HN/Reddit)

No, it's bullshit. YC shouldn't censor the articles, especially one as potentially dangerous as this. AirBnB has everything to do with the title and blog and they deserve any bad PR they receive. Very disappointing.

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