Hacker News new | past | comments | ask | show | jobs | submit login
On Safety: A Word From Airbnb (techcrunch.com)
162 points by ssclafani on July 28, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 106 comments

There continues to be a major point of conflict between EJ's concerns and AirBnB's position. In fact, the point of conflict is actually within AirBnB's safety policies itself:

1 - Private messaging that lets users learn about each other prior to booking, without revealing private information

2 - Reservation system that allows hosts to accept or decline guests, giving them complete control over who books their space

I'm sorry, but that just isn't consistent - which is, I believe, a major point EJ is trying to get across.

How can you have "complete control over who books [your] space" while not "revealing private information." It's so blatantly inconsistent that it just comes out sounding like marketing drivel.

The fundamental issue, as I see it, is that as long as private information is withheld, you not only have very limited control, it also simply isn't safe.

What are AirBnB's reasons for blocking the exchange of private information? Is it their form for DRM? Or is there really a good reason that isn't about protecting AirBnB's revenue stream?

Before booking, AirBnB does not allow you swap personal information, primarily so you can't go outside their system to make your arrangements. There are both financial and community-building reasons for this.

Once the payment has been made (well before the guest arrives), the host gets access to all of the private information of the guest. I believe they could chose to rescind the offer of hospitality at this point -- they haven't received the money, so if they are uncomfortable with the individual, they can still do something about it.

I know this is an emotional issue, but their response was hardly "blantantly inconsistent ... marketing drivel."

Can you elaborate though on the exact timing of the exchange? EJ's story makes it sound insufficient:

"Thus by the time this reservation was confirmed and I was given Dj’s email address and phone number, I was on a plane heading East, and he/she was armed with my welcoming instructions on where to pick up the keys to my apartment."

For the rest of it, I'm not saying that the response is inconsistent. I'm saying that keeping information private is inconsistent with safety (which is what EJ's argument was). This is especially true (and concerning) when they say that keeping information private is a safety feature, but it seems everyone thinks its a driven by financial motivation.

It's slightly frustrating when someone says "we do this for safety", but the reality is they do it for money and it reduces safety.

Can you elaborate though on the exact timing of the exchange? EJ's story makes it sound insufficient:

I used to work for an AirBnb clone wannabe, so I can't speak for the exact site itself, but the way ours operated was that you could cancel the booking at any point after it was confirmed- if you do it very shortly before arrival there were financial penalties to doing so.

Of course, if someone sends through a booking for tomorrow, or tonight, you're unlikely to have the time to sufficiently vet them. Perhaps people should be able to say "I need [x] days notice for bookings".

At least on AirBNB you can always decline a (potential) booking, so if you always want [x] days, you can simply always decline if the booking is that soon.

"Before booking, AirBnB does not allow you swap personal information, primarily so you can't go outside their system to make your arrangements."

That would be a selfish act then. (But from a business point of view an understandable one.)

But on the other hand, I'm not sure what we would expect them to do? There simply isn't a way they can guarantee you don't get a nutter.

It's a gamble that you choose, you may win, you may lose.

I for one would not rent anything other than a steel box with a blow up matress on the floor that cost less that the rent I was charging.

But on the other hand I'd love to visit some of the places they have available. I'd treat those locations with the upmost of respect, but would be mindful of the fact any number of camera's could be filming me.

AirBnB is a fantastic idea, if people were not people.

How ironic given that they built the business on spamming craigslist and circumventing users' requests to not be solicited.

They did not build the business this way. That was something done years ago by a single contractor without their knowledge, and it had an insignificant effect on their growth.

Edit: Actually it sounds like it was several contractors (http://tech.fortune.cnn.com/2011/06/07/1-billion-1-br-amazin...)

Personally, I give Airbnb the benefit of the doubt. No question. I think very highly of the company and the founders.

However, when I read your comment, it bothered me (specifically the bit about the rogue contractor). It gave me the exact same feeling as seeing Rupert Murdoch on the stand saying something to the effect of - "No, I do not take responsibility for my companies wrong-doings, it was a rogue employee.."

The only time I've really learned from a mistake as an entrepreneur is when I've had to look at myself and take 100% responsibility. 100%.

Who hired that employee or contractor? Who hired the people who hired the contractor? Why were they hired? Who put the hiring processes in place? Why did your systems not weed this behavior out as soon as it started? In every organization, there is only one answer to that question - the leader.

An entrepreneur must be ultimately accountable while they are being relentlessly resourceful. I feel it is so important to communicate this message to our current and future leaders - both for the sake of their ability to grow, and for the sake of the lives of those they touch.

Thank you for coming forth with a statement on this. I don't remember seeing one from you when this issue first cropped up, which really didn't look good. A lot of people referenced your "founders should push the envelope" phrase in your absence to explain it, which in my opinion made it look even worse. I value your word a lot more than I do theirs since they don't have a known reputation (with me). Culpable or not, that incident still left a bad taste in my mouth.

I didn't know what happened when it first cropped up. I didn't hear the details till later.

The solution to that is for AirBNB to offer a compelling value, so that people don't feel the need to bypass them. They can do this by vetting properties, background checks, offering insurance, etc.

Let's say for a moment that AirBnB let you exchange private info prior to booking. You've then released you're information to a stranger who could do what they want with it. I've never rented with AirBnB, but sites like Homeaway do not restrict the passage of contact information, so I had to give my credit card information to a complete stranger. By bypassing AirBnB, youve no one on your side to protect your credit information and address from relative strangers. at least here, they were able to assist the investigation because of the payment and personal identification info the no doubtedly used to help the police actually catch the guy. yeah, it benefits AirBnB to maintain control of their revenue, but it is also a safeguard for all users.

I'm not sure where credit card information comes from, but there's a middle ground to the two extremes (AirBnB's where nothing is shared and yours where everything is). AirBnB can still process the payment while providing the other private information people need to truly verify potential occupants.

No one's asking for credit card details, they are asking for emails, telephones and other basic contact information.

Right, but even if you exchanged your name and email or even phone number, how is that going to lead you to believe who the person "really" is? Now, more than ever, it's so easy to hide behind fake digital personas, so why does exchanging basic information mean that youre somehow safer? Because of Facebook? Or Twitter? Is a thief really going to broadcast their intentions over the internet and if you get their information sooner, you can find out before you become a victim? Why does it matter about when you get the information? How would having this information sooner protect her from this situation? Not to mention that you cant always predict what people are going to do. AIrBnB is a community that is supposed to be built on trust and I cant imagine that this is the norm with them. Shit happens, and it's terrible, but sometimes you just can't prevent it. I'd imagine that the company will come up with some sort of verification process soon to help add security, but there's only so much they can do.

Not only are 1) and 2) inconsistent, but rejecting a booking negatively impacts your search-rankings and they warn you loudly about it. I've certainly been in the situation where I wanted to decline a booking, but the search ranking penalty made me re-consider.

I mean, if you get a sketchy feeling about someone you're talking to, I feel like it may be worth the risk of a few points. It's not like everyone is a bad guy.

I don't get it though. I made a reservation through AirBNB, and while you can't explicitly exchange emails or phone numbers, there are many, MANY ways by which this can be circumvented ("I am <firstname>.n at the Googol's email service", or "you can check me out as 'shr1k' on Twittr")

Since I was the potential tenant, I went out of my way to ensure that the landlord could check me out in whatever manner possible before coming to a conclusion one way or another. Wouldn't it be reasonable to assume the landlord would want this too?

I can't stop thinking that this was a top-secret hit job by some shady character working for the hotel industry looking to derail AirBnB's next fund-raising round. Heck, if Nixon could do it, why couldn't The American Hotel & Lodging Association?

So my question to you is: am I quite paranoid or merely rather paranoid?

Whatever you are, I'm the same, because it's the second thing I thought of.

But the first thing was that there are a lot of privileged young people out there whose friends might very well have thought a week of utter abandonment and breaking every possible rule would be the height of fun. And yeah, I can easily see that privileged young asshole finding it the height of humor to email the owner every now and then saying how nice the place was - more than likely laughing at how nice the owner actually found the place, if you see what I mean.

I've been a landlord. There is nothing, and I mean nothing at all, that will destroy your faith in humanity more quickly. Seriously. Even though the majority of tenants are perfectly wonderful people, and even though I only had a grand total of six tenants before giving it up as a bad idea, there were some that were just ... well. It's really like a bad dream.

This experience was worse than any of mine, and it was compressed into a single frenetic week of probable partying, but it's the same genre as one particular tenant I'm thinking of. She meant well. Her friends did not. And in the end, I was the one left with the holes punched in the wall, with the dryer stolen, with the garden shed piled to the roof with months-old garbage, with a kitchen floor that could easily have been a bus station, with evidence of a three-inch flood of water from the washing machine, with fleas in the carpet and holes in the yard after she'd signed a clear no-pets clause. (A friend and neighbor of ours owns several apartments in the neighborhood. One of the tenants she evicted had stabbed the refrigerator multiple times. Apparently on a lark.)

So even though it's more fun to imagine it as a conspiracy, I'm afraid the gritty reality is that there are people out there who just don't give a shit about who suffers from their actions, and who think it's fun to damage things.

I was recently talking to the home owner for the property I am renting and they told me that out of everyone they are renting to I along with my room mates are the most patient and most caring and following up than any of their other tenants. I actually care about the property, I talk to them when something happens, I follow up and make sure work gets done that is supposed to be done.

The homeowner was telling me about one of their tenants who they are currently attempting to evict, would call up and leave a voicemail and just about 5 minutes later would send an angry email and not even 20 minutes later have a lawyer call them regarding a simple issue (screen door broke, house has AC and perfectly good functioning windows). When they last went by the place it was packed full of all kinds of crap (à la hoarders).

Oh, yeah, my experience as a landlord makes me a fantastic tenant. Last place I rented before buying the current house, I was working on fixing the roof in my spare time - mostly because I really like to be fixing houses in my spare time anyway and, as we were in Puerto Rico, the roof was concrete and thus a really new and fun experience.

All it takes is just a teeny bit of responsibility. Landlording somehow filters out some of the people who really have none and drags them through your life.

I've heard similar horror stories from friends who rent places out, however it does cut both ways - for myself, despite going absolutely out of my way to be a good tenant, I have had landlords try to rip me off (several times), scream at me because I dared remind them that it'd been > 6 weeks since I'd asked them to look at the faulty gas boiler (!), etc.

I think some landlords need to learn to appreciate good tenants as well as to be wary of the bad ones.

Note: I don't mean to imply you, or even most landlords are like this, it's just that there are some out there and they need to learn how to behave decently just as such tenants do too...

Oh, absolutely. But remember - a lot of landlords aren't very good at it. God knows I wasn't. If they don't have a property manager, your boiler being out is just one more thing they have to remember, and can't, because they're just trying to make a little extra cash on a house they maybe can't sell - or somebody told them rental management is easy, when it's not. They may be working a regular job and simply can't get the focus for your issues. It sucks, but it happens a lot.

In situations like that, I usually send them a letter or call them, explaining that I know exactly what they're going through, and I'd be happy to arrange maintenance for them as long as they reimburse me. I've never failed to get a response of, "Oh God, could you please?"

Depends on the landlord, too. If you live in a low-rent building, they have a really high stress level for not a lot of return - it doesn't take much to set yourself apart from the jerks they normally deal with, though. Get on a friendly basis with them and it'll go a long way.

Once you've had a couple of the really bad tenants, I think it's very, very difficult to learn to see the good in people again as opposed to the enormous risk exposure.

You sound like a great landlord, to me it really comes down to whether they are actively acting maliciously, for example the landlords who screwed me out my deposit were clearly trying to steal the cash - one when I was at uni made up loads of costs despite us having spent a day cleaning, painting and getting the place spotless, another kept on promising to pay but then suddenly dropped all contact, in the end I had to threaten legal action (after a couple months).

> Once you've had a couple of the really bad tenants, I think it's very, very difficult to learn to see the good in people again as opposed to the enormous risk exposure.

Absolutely, I can understand that - sorry to hear you've experienced that. Seems unfortunately quite common. Who are these people?!!

Trust me, anybody who's rented to more than a couple of people has experienced it. Anybody I've talked to, anyway.

As to who these people are: it's a mixed bag. I keep wanting to write some kind of tl;dr screed here, but ... it's complicated.

I'll say this, though. I went to school with a guy whose dad was the manager for an American-owned automotive plant in Spain. They lived in a freaking mansion in Cadiz, although they were basically regular people from Cleveland or Akron or someplace. But he basically grew up a lot richer than me (and considered me bourgeois, but damn we were young and foolish).

He told me the story once about how he'd been depressed and visited a friend of his who was housesitting for their teacher at the American school there. I.e. another rich kid. So what this friend did to cheer him up, among other things, was to set up a target and throw knives at it. Except instead of knives, they destroyed every pair of scissors in the house and used the halves as throwing knives, you see. He laughed about how the teacher must have been perplexed about having no scissors when he got back from his trip.

I'm sure that he'd be mortified to know that I remember this story twenty years later, which is why I'm not naming names (yes, Mr. Google, I'm watching you!)

OK. So extrapolate that rich kid's behavior - and this was a good guy who I really liked - to our original post here. It's the same thing, just a lot more extreme. There are just people who think that kind of exploitation of the vulnerability of others is funny and fun, although I'm sure the vast majority grow out of it at some point.

It's kind of like sociopaths, I guess, as abused as that concept has gotten lately. I think there are those of us who would never have considered finding all the scissors in the house they were entrusted with, and tearing them in half for knife throwing. I'm one of those people. You probably are. And sadly, AirBNB is probably made up exclusively of that category of people. And probably the vast majority of users of AirBNB also fall into this category.

Now, one didn't. Honestly - I think the only way AirBNB is going to weather this is to have some serious, serious talks with an insurance provider and have some kind of blanket coverage they can extend to their hosts, perhaps with an additional fee - but they're not going to get through it with just being nice guys. Which arguably they are.

So that was really more than I intended to write. Sorry.

In light of today's developments, I no longer think they're nice guys. (http://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=2820615)

While renting an apartment the dishwasher broke and I offered to install the new one. The landlord turned me down and scheduled it for a time I had to be at work and took the opportunity to snoop around and accuse me of harboring a child that I had not told him about (in reality, my niece would visit a lot so we had a bunch of toys for her). He withheld the entire security deposit on those grounds. So it cuts both ways with the unreasonable humans. :)

Happy ending though, because Chicago has fantastic renter's rights so we got all the money back and then some.

What an asshole. I've never had anything like that in my stints in the tenant role. But honestly, that just sounds like he wanted to look for reasons to keep the security deposit and nothing you had done would have changed that.

Good on you for winning.

And you know? I grew up not knowing this, and I wish I still didn't know it.

From the victim's post:

"...came into my home earlier this month (apparently with several others, according to witnesses)..."

So there were several of them. If this were a hotel industry conspiracy, I think it would be very difficult to pull off this way. All you need is for one renter to do this. Adding people to the conspiracy puts your conspiracy at risk of being found out.

However, it's not too hard to imagine a random group of renters doing stupid stuff like this. Think about some immature people who weren't raised well and who are also drunk, on drugs, and/or slightly mentally ill.

tl;dr It stretches the imagination less to chalk this up to a group of thugs than to a conspiracy.

not necessarily all of the thugs had to be in on the conspiracy. perhaps only one was paid off.

I think the answer is "quite paranoid" -- here are a couple possibilities I think are more likely than yours:

- Early adopters were less likely to vandalize apartments, so as AirBnB becomes more mainstream we will see an increase in vandals.

- Criminals are starting to realize that AirBnB lets them get around mandatory hotel registrations / ID checks

- AirBnB hosts, having had many good experiences, have become more lax than they previously were in their screening/supervision of guests.

My apartment in SF was burglarized and the burglars used a crackhead from the park to act as a lookout and then take the heat later.

I don't think this was an industry setup. However, I would be willing to bet that the real burglar just did the physical and ID theft part, and then let in a bunch of tweakers to wreck the place and throw the subsequent investigation off track.

Occam's razor favors the 'meth-heads in her flat for a week' or 'malicious crazy person' hypotheses over the 'top-secret hit job' hypothesis.

In your shoes, I would be more than a bit embarrassed to have espoused this particular conspiracy theory in public.

Joel might be famous in the technology space and maybe a bit wider via his Inc. magazine articles, but I doubt many people from the hotel industry care what he has to say on the matter. He's just posing hypotheticals anyway.

Second answer to the same question: while it's almost certainly not a conspiracy, it's equally certain there are champagne corks flying in certain quarters.

Because the President of the United States is a preposterously entitled individual, and Nixon is one of the few that got caught while probing the limits of that entitlement.

Arguing that something is plausible is not the same as arguing that something happened.

I thought the same but it does not matter wether this is a setup or not. What matters is that it could happen. airbnb can't do the same: sending somebody in a Hotel and destroy the room? That would prove nothing.

Hotels/dedicated accommodations are run by professionals and the business model is sound. Airbnb is maybe too ahead of its time and will work greatly when our online identities are more "stable" if you see what I mean.

Right now it's like finding a good developer by asking my friends in Facebook because it seems cheaper and cooler. It's not. Hosting somebody is not as easy as pointing the bed and the bathroom. It's way more complicated than that. Safety is just one aspect that non professional hosts have troubles dealing with.

Disclaimer: I run an accommodation reservation system in many ways similar to airbnb and I love their idea.

But we are going in the opposite direction: only professional hosts renting places dedicated to tourists (they don't live there), local Managers meeting and selecting the owners, visiting the accommodations (I often even test them sleeping there) and supporting the guests locally. It does not allow for fast growth but it's much safer for all the parties involved.

by finding a good tenant by asking your friends on Facebook might be a good idea - some form of social vouching would really help (even if it's friend-of-friend-of-friend).

It does sound just too ridiculous. I mean it's one thing to find the safe and steal credit cards, but I find it more than a little odd that he burned a spare set of sheets in the fireplace.

Someone elsewhere (in another related discussion on HN) suggested the place was probably used as a meth lab. They could have been destroying evidence or some such.

The sheets could have simply been stolen.

I think if the broader public knew about this it could damage AirBNB but at this point I'm guessing 90% of AirBNB customer base doesn't follow TC or HN and therefore will not be aware of the substantiated risk to their possessions.

Maybe after the 10th or 11th serious robbery/rape/murder then This American Life will make an interesting show about it.

Past that - maybe sys admin paranoid.

Just because you're paranoid it doesn't they're not after you.

I don't think you are even paranoid by thinking about this. It's certainly possible.

Not only to derail fund-raising, it's also a direct PR hit which can cause slowdowns in expansion and feature development.

Well, afaik you travel a lot. Why don't YOU rent out your place via Airbnb?

(nothing personal, but I know I would not rent my apartment just to earn a few $$$)

WHOA! And I lose respect for another Internet legend. :(

I want to believe that people are fundamentally good as well and there is definitely evidence that supports that.

But this incident has left a bad taste in my mouth, and their response hasn't made me feel any better. It's not like Ebay where if you have a bad experience, your loss is stemmed to the material good you have given away. On AirBnb, the potential harm in the worst case for both a guest and a host are massive -- total material loss or even rape or death.

I'm sure many people find value using their service, but after today, the risk is so clearly present that I don't think you can pay me to use it.

It's not like Ebay where if you have a bad experience, your loss is stemmed to the material good you have given away

If you're going to play the rape-or-death card, then why not also say that an EBay package you receive could contain a bomb or anthrax spores?

Personally speaking, AirBnB always baffled me, even before this incident. I would never have given my home for others to use and would find it weird to use that of a strangers' when travelling, but that's just me.

Other people clearly find value in it.

I'm surprised that this incident would have left a bad taste in your mouth, in the same way that I'm surprised when people who store super-sensitive information in Dropbox find out that maybe its not a secure bank vault.

True, but with Ebay, space separates me and the other party, so I still have (or feel like I have) some level of control. Could I still fall victim to random acts of hatred? Sure.

Call it a bad taste or a pit in the stomach, but the incident only reinforced my worst fears about the service. It's something that will be difficult to forget.

an EBay package you receive could contain a bomb or anthrax spores?

Or, perhaps, even a bobcat.

One faces the posibility of those horrible loses each day, but obviously you are increasing your risk with AirBnB.

But a nutter having your key is just a minor detail if entry is desired; and with AirBnB at least you get a cash reward for your risk.

I know you were being glib here and not completely serious but I'm still going to respond to the general sentiment.

Every day we do take risks by stepping out the front door, however the communities we belong to institute safeguards to help mitigate these numerous risks. We hire police officers, firemen, and construct hospitals. Living in these communities is not free, we pay taxes to support this.

AirBnB is a virtual community that also collects taxes: 3% to be exact. However, they do nothing but mitigate the risks of funds transfer, and in other cases increase the risk by handcuffing attempts at vetting.

So, yes, while I do face these horrible possibilities every day I know that the communities I belong to are attempting to minimize them -- can you honestly say that about AirBnB's community?

You're right about the financial expected value, but I think you might be disregarding the trust aspect of the transaction, which I think was why Airbnb was so successful. Buying into the brand reinforces a particularly optimistic world view that people who are likely to use Airbnb enjoy.

Plus, when you are giving your key to another person, the risk is not just monetary, but the additional emotional risk of just being violated. I think it was very telling that EJ was particularly betrayed by the lies in the ongoing email updates and not just the monetary loss.

Exactly. People (including myself who used the service) felt that it was more legit than Craigslist when in fact, they have the same financial protection.

With respect, your misconception on safety levels are not a fault of AirBnB. It's our trusting nature.

I've read lots of the discussions about this today, and I think I'm the first to post this:


It is no better or worse than Craigslist, as humans are involved. Some humans always screw things up for the rest of us.

It's interesting that he quoted the positive parts from EJ's post; but not the negative parts:

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.

This post is in the right direction and I applaud Brian for stepping up, but this has taken too long for this to happen. If you note in EJ's post, she states that she would not be compensated for any damages and she was on the hook. Airbnb didn't step up to the plate until it was posted on Techcrunch. This has been simmering since June and they really could have gotten ahead of this and handled this entirely different. Imagine had they come out in June and fessed up and said this is how we are going to handle it. EJ we are taking care of everything, we are instituting new policies, looking into insurance and we will have a dedicated 24 hour hotline for customer support. They would have set the precedent for how to handle these situations. Instead they did like everyone else and only dealt with it once it became a much larger issue.

/sidenote if I was Brian I would by no means be quoting EJ's blog post as proof to saying they handled this correctly. Because they didn't.

They were hoping nobody would notice. I'm sure they've been working on changes as a result of this since June and have had a response plan in place as well, but in their ideal world, this would have never made it to the top of HN and other sites, and TechCrunch would have never gotten involved.

Why point people towards something that will always give you a black eye when they could say "see the new features we have to keep you safe" instead?

FWIW, similar to PayPal paying well north of $100M to really learn how to do fraud prevention, AirBnB should consider the cost of making things right for her as part of the cost of learning how to rent safely. Not doing so is a very short-term decision that reduces trust in their ecosystem and trust is fundamental to their success.

this has taken too long for this to happen. If you note in EJ's post, she states that she would not be compensated for any damages and she was on the hook. Airbnb didn't step up to the plate until it was posted on Techcrunch.

Is this really the case? EJ's post from June says this in the fifth paragraph: "They have offered to help me recover emotionally and financially". I cannot find anything in her original post that contradicts that. Can you point me to a paragraph number and sentence where you are getting the info that she originally would not be compensated?

The only source for the idea that EJ would not be compensated seems to be the original TC article from today. That was sourced from a company spokesperson who was citing policy, and was contradicted by Chesky's post here. Given the original blog post, it seems a lot more probable that this is a detail that TC (and Airbnb's spokesperson) got wrong, not that Airbnb changed their mind.

AirBNB has a huge asymmetric trust problem. The hosts have real physical addresses and need to be able to take a payment. Hosts can easily be held accountable.

The guests on the other hand could be anyone. The company's attitude seems to be that allowing the host to interview the guest over email is sufficient to vet the guest. That's absurd. I don't have any special ability to identify a con artist vs. an honest person, and neither does anyone else.

What would be a good solution? Here's a partial solution: require guests to make a partial payment on the credit card they intend to use 30 days before their first booking. This would at least offer some security that the card wasn't stolen. Also of course ban pre-paid cards.

It really gets on my nerves when I see cases like this and the responses that follow. As you have pointed out, you have no special skills to be able to recognise con artists or criminals. As this is the case with most people, how would having further private information on the guest help you to make a different judgement.

Unless we start talking criminal background checks, you are no safer than before. If anything it gives a false sense of security, which might make you less likely pursue further avenues of safeguarding. Of course criminal background checks are a completely stupid idea. I'm sure many good natured people would be hesitant to put this level of info in the hands of someone they don't know.

The truth is though even criminals can get credit cards, debit cards and any other method of verification you can think of. So that info doesn't really help. Worse still they can use fraudulent information just as easily. What do you do now? You also have to remember those opportunistic types, you know the person who has never really done anything wrong, but for whatever reason at that moment they are compelled to break the law or behave in a manner they normally wouldn't.

In a society that is mostly good, we have the police the courts, the law and prisons, to deal with bad people. You can not really on airbnb to provide you with a definitive solution to this problem, if they did then they should be running the country. Nor should you expect them to put systems in place that violate the rights of the majority, or systems that provide a false sense of security. The best they can ever do is provide you with support and advice on preventative measures.

Your safety should still be your top concern. You should not be relying on another to provide it for you.

Your safety should still be your top concern. You should not be relying on another to provide it for you.

I'm sorry, but I find these type of comments useless. So you're saying there's nothing AirBnB could do and there's no need for them to worry about it, so we can just end the conversation right now?

I think the point that was made was that there is an inherent asymmetry in that the guest can remain more anonymous than the host. Since the guest is more anonymous, there are less incentives to don't do stupid stuff as you can more likely avoid repercussions.

I interpreted the suggestion as thinking of ways to hold the guest more accountable. Maybe by having a verified bank account? Maybe a credit card held for long enough that it's reasonably not stolen (though could still be a stolen identity).

And yes, of course any system can be circumvented by a sufficiently motivated individual. But, like with locking your front door, it's about making it complicated enough that it's not worth it given the reward.

* Nor should you expect them to put systems in place that violate the rights of the majority*

This makes no sense. How exactly would AirBnB violate anyone's rights? It's a voluntary service you can use if you so desire.

`So you're saying there's nothing airBnB could and there's no need to worry about it`

No I said

`The best they can ever do is provide you with support and advice on preventative measures.'

AirBnB should worry about the who-har going on in the media yes. About the crimes committed to an individual, bluntly no. Not beyond a empathy, support and goodwill. The rest is for the police and courts to deal with.

`And yes, of course any system can be circumvented by a sufficiently motivated individual...it's about making it complicated enough that it's not worth it given the reward.`

Hmmmm prison is the known punishment, if that isn't enough to stop people, my guess is knowing their name isn't going to deter them either.

* Nor should you expect them to put systems in place that violate the rights of the majority*

`This makes no sense. How exactly would AirBnB violate anyone's rights?`

By putting in requirements for overly intrusive personal information. To satisfy the rants of an irrational mob.

`It's a voluntary service you can use if you so desire.`

That is true, so while the irrational mob thinks that it's a good idea as a response to a bad individual. In practice, when confronted with handing over such information they will be less than eager to comply. For that reason it marks a very bad business decision for AirBnB.

The best suggestion I have heard is that AirBnB should look at providing some form of insurance policy to Hoteliers/Guests.

They have already stated that they are ramping up customer service and providing support areas on the AirBnB site.

Don't forget that the problem of criminal activity is not one way. It is not only criminals who can attack Hoteliers. The reverse is also true, and it is far more dangerous for a person to give their home address, name, telephone number etc, to someone posing as a hotel.

If your booking a hotel it's an irrelevant argument, it's a matter of fact that you need to know the address, telephone number and point of contact for where your staying.

Please think rationally....

I was with you until your final paragraph, which seems to me only to address payment problems by making payment and planning more difficult, without actually addressing the asymmetric trust or renter-vetting problems.

The renter-vetting problem is a real one. A past history of good experiences at AirBNB would probably be a good mechanism - a new member of the community would then be scrutinized a little more closely. (Maybe they already do this, I don't know - I haven't used them and won't, because I travel with a wife, two kids, and a dog, and there's no freaking way I'd leave somebody in my home without supervision if it was Jesus Christ Himself.)

I propose it because it would help to ensure that the credit card wasn't stolen (because the cardholder would spot the charge before the guest arrived). If you can ensure that the card isn't stolen, then AirBNB has a way to track down criminal guests, which makes it less likely criminals would see this as an exploitable system.

Yes, it's a pain, hopefully they can come up with something better. But they seem to be ignoring the problem of effectively anonymous guests.

Generally, people are not "fundamentally good". Generally, most people are only good when they believe the reward for being so is >= the required effort or discomfort (rewards aren't always monetary and could be as simple as feeling good about yourself for helping the crippled-orphaned-widow-beggar across the street). An example of this is airbnb's own policy of not disclosing renter contact information. Despite what they say, airbnb believes that people are not fundamentally good as their concern of users circumventing their payment system is greater than their concern for the safety of said users (at least to the extent that stories such as this don't hurt their business more than payment bypassing would).

If airbnb believed what they espouse, they'd quit trying to outsource their trust in humanity to their customers whom they aren't liable for and instead actually trust that people in general won't sidestep the payment process.

When down voting, please explain (seriously).

> ...a case study demonstrating that people are fundamentally good

> Private messaging that lets users learn about each other prior to booking, without revealing private information

The reason why Airbnb doesn't let people "reveal private information" prior to booking / paying is so they won't circumvent their system and exchange money without paying Airbnb's fees.

So in fact Airbnb isn't so trusting of people's "fundamental" goodness and honesty; the matter of fact is that Airbnb assumes every single one of its users is a potential cheater.

Instead of the marketspeak / ass-protecting / legalese response we've witnessed so far from Airbnb about this incident, an interesting experiment would be to lift this restriction and let people exchange personal information from the very beginning: how many would actually try to game the system?

I love what AirBnB is doing - and I know they'll pull through this. But there's one policy of theirs that just needs to change: Stop penalizing hosts for declining reservations

My wife and I used AirBnB to rent out our place in San Francisco very early on in the life of AirBnB. At one point we'd booked about 60 reservations and were making a killing. It was simply wonderful having the freedom of place that AirBnB afforded us. Trip to Hawaii for the weekend? Our rental earnings for just the weekend easily paid off the flight.

We stopped using AirBnB (and renting out our place in general) for a variety of reasons, but the primary reason was safety. We were finding that 9 of 10 reservation requests were from people without AirBnB ratings nor profiles, but the moment you decline a reservation, for any reason (even if you know the person isn't legit), your search ranking drops considerably.

The way AirBnB determines your search ranking for a particular area is directly related to how many successful bookings you've had over a trailing 60 days. This is why the top 50 places in SF right now on AirBnB are "full time" or professionally-managed rentals, and not normal people just renting on the weekends. At one point we were renting out our place consistently almost every weekend, and because airbnb's search interface is so poor, making it into the top 20 for an area resulted in a twentyfold increase in reservations.

The problem then becomes, as a host - do I decline reservations from people I know nothing about and take a rating hit that may prevent me from renting again, or, do I accept the reservation and "trust in humankind" that everything will be ok?

We obviously took the latter road, and for the most part had great interactions with the people we met. However, after a couple of "close calls" - an elderly couple who almost burned our place down and an obviously high-functioning crazy person, we decided that it wasn't worth the risk anymore.

I really want AirBnB to work - and I understand why they maintain this policy of penalizing you for not being generally available, but in light of the recent incident, I hope they rethink it and help promote "real" hosts who don't do this as a business.

I once rented out my apartment privately and it turned out to be a major mistake. I had just come home from surfing the Caribbeans and was sitting on a train going home from the airport when I got a job offer that would entail me moving halfway across the world.

I took the job and was basically on a plane in a week or two. I decided to save time by renting my apartment out fully furnished. My mom met some dude she thought looked OK and we rented it out to this guy. Turns out this was one shady guy. First month comes around, no rent. I call the guy and he comes up with an excuse, not wanting to really deal with this at the time I bought the excuse and was expecting two rents the next month. Next month comes along and no rent again so I get my friend to go into the apartment and he opens the door only to find basically everything I owned stolen.

After calming down I found the guy on facebook and then reported him to the police, they couldnt do much seing as the guys excuse was that he had left the apartment and dropped the key into the mailbox so someone else must have fished it up and opened the door and stole everything.

tl;dr I rented out my apartment and got everything I own stolen and the police didnt manage to do anything.

What did I learn from this? ALWAYS get a deposit. 2-3 months rent up front. Have insurance, have friends that are able to go check up on the place from time to time. And dont leave anything valuable in the apt when renting it out.

And this is why I will never ever use a service such as Airbnb, no control.

> Creating a dedicated Trust & Safety department.

This sure is where things start to get tricky in managing the organizational growth of a company. Something like this happens and the reaction is to create a new department. That's understandable and demonstrates commitment to tackling the issue at hand. But then another adverse event (inevitably) happens and people will complain complain that the "Trust & Safety" department was isolated from the rest of the company and that those topics now have to get mainstreamed (or insert other buzzword) across the whole company.

Just one of the many challenges that comes with great success.

Bruce Shneier often talks about terrorist tactics only being worrying when they are reliable enough to build a plot around - if a someone gets through security checks by random chance, it's sad, but not a fundamental flaw in the system because nobody could plan to exploit the same situation in the future.

My worry about this case is that this does seem an entirely reliable and repeatable method of nastiness. I'm happy to assume that any given random person is fundamentally good, but now that it's been demonstrated that identity fraud + Airbnb = swag, fundamentally bad people will be actively planning ways to exploit it.

I'm glad someone's in custody, but I don't see anything announced in this post that is going to dissuade wrongdoers from looking at Airbnb as a massive opportunity.

Here's what you see when you search the term "insurance" on airbnb.com: http://www.airbnb.com/help/search?q=insurance

Something like this would be more reassuring: http://support.getaround.com/kb/insurance-infractions/how-do...

The article says they are working to offer an "insurance option" to hosts. So what, if it happens again to a host who hasn't taken this option, they're screwed? What would have been more reassuring is saying "airbnb will of course fully indemnify hosts against guests damaging their property" - as they've had to do in this recent case. He seems to say that airbnb are working in the opposite direction in future though.

None of this sounds like it addresses the underlying problem: you're relying on them to vet the guest yet you're the one with the most to lose if they get it wrong.

Well, yes and no. For the sake of argument, let's accept that AirBnb is worth $1.3 billion dollars. I can only imagine that a large portion of that valuation is based on the potential upside that would come with becoming a consumer success and disrupting the hotel industry etc etc etc.

What portion of that valuation will disappear if the perception that AirBnb "isn't safe" takes hold? To make the math easier, let's guess 10% (although it's potentially 100%). 1.3 billion / 10 is 130 million dollars, which is probably much more than the value of the stuff in your house. All of which is a long way of saying that AirBnb is actually heavily incentivized to get this right.

Unfortunately, no matter what safety mechanisms Airbnb puts in place, messes like this are still going to happen. Even if there were a reliable rating or karma system, and you could exchange messages with a potential renter before accepting them, you will still have the "Ebay problem" - where a malicious party gains access to a trusted user's account and uses it to fool people into renting to them.

This already happens within regular hotel environments people have to be realistic and more sensible when renting out their living areas.

Additionally, Airbnb or another company should start to offer, FOR A Fee, a form of insurance to cover situations like this unfortunate scenario.

From these efforts, I get the impression that AirBnB really epitomizes the Be Good argument (where Don't be Evil isn't enough)[1]

[1] http://paulgraham.com/good.html

That's generous of you, at this stage.

I'd say they got off to a rocky start on this (both in the initial response to EJ, and the subsequent response to the public disclosure of the incident). AirBnB could have tried to get in front of the story, but didn't.

I can chalk a lot of that up to a green team running scared, though trying to do the right thing. I'm reserving final judgment on this until more is known.

You've got to be kidding me. Are you not aware of AirBnB's history and how they built their userbase?

I replied to the other comment you made saying the same thing elsewhere on this thread:




Since this is the third story on this topic on the FP today, I figured a wisecrack is in order.

EJ's blog has the tagline: I leap, the net appears. Every time.

Apparently not this time...

I am sure Airbnb has / is thinking about this already. Still the best solution is transparency and badging. Much like eBay FB system.

First, I do not believe this is the place to make a stand about our trust in humanity. I believe that is best left to philosopher who has all of human discourse to use.

My argument rests on the fact that Airbnb is moving closer to the average. Airbnb is moving closer to the average in the sense that they are attracting more people. After several million bookings, the general booking population will look more like the average in terms of disabilities, crime, unemployment, and many other imaginable statistics. Airbnb may not be quite there, but they are certainly growing closer.

The question becomes, how to improve trust as Airbnb moves closer to the average?

One such way is to implement trust systems. One such way is their existing feedback systems for people who use Airbnb. Hosts and renters alike can rate each other across several factors. Over time, one can develop a reputation that is accepted as a "I will do no evil". Heck, Airbnb could even reward these people with lower booking rates / larger cut as host.

Trust systems are fine for those who have earned trust within the system. How does one bootstrap trust in an increasing paranoid system? There is a cost associated with this in the sense of gaining references or examining the social network of a first time renter. After such examination the responsibility relies upon some host to have an increasingly long conversation with a first time renter. This can be done before or after booking. However at the end of the conversation, one ultimately relies on their own judgement, which means the conversation can be gamed.

In a future, Airbnb could work with outside systems. Airbnb could work with criminal databases, social information, along with associated other signals. All these approaches hint at a big brother approach where Airbnb is the ultimate judge and jury on who can host and/or rent. I don't see Airbnb being very popular in this approach.

In the end, I think Airbnb has the responsibility to make things right in this situation. In the future I think they have the responsibility to make things right while their business model relies on the trust of their customers. Increase awareness and increase their own detection measures to the extent that they do not become big brother.

Ultimately, I think things like this will continue to happen. However, the success (or failure) of the Airbnb billion+ business will depend on their response to such future events. Continue to make the host (the supply) happy and Airbnb will do well.

Credit checks would probably weed out dysfunctional meth-heads. Also, college students and foreigners, but basic background/reference checks might address that. That's not easy or cheap, but security never is.

i guess i feel like this is totally unsurprising, except that a similar incident hadn't been publicized already. i felt exactly the same way about Getaround, which is AirBnB for your car - hobos will definitely rent my car and defecate and copulate in it.

Can we agree that the host here is at least partially responsible for what happened?

First, let me say that what happened was horrible, and the person who did the damage should go to jail for a long long time. AirBnB should cover the cost of all damages as a gesture of goodwill.

It's really a shame that this kind of stuff can happen, but the reality (that I'd hope most people understand) is that not 100% of the population is good and decent (maybe it's 99%, maybe it's 98%, but it's certainly not 100%) Given that every mature adult is aware of this, the way the host acted was pretty irresponsible and was kind of inviting disaster.

She literally left a key for a total stranger to her home, without doing ANY due-diligence. Someone basically sent her an email, and she said "okey-dokey, here's the keys, have fun." What are the odds that if you do that 50 or 100 times that something like this doesn't happen? Also, how many people would be careless enough to do that?

Seriously, it's pretty tragic what happened and I really feel for the host, but it rubs me the wrong way that AirBnB is getting this massive amount of bad press when in fairness they just posted a listing and handled the transaction. Could they have more security measures in place? sure, but the way the host acted, I'm really not convinced anything would have made a difference here.

If you give keys to your place to a random stranger without so much as meeting them or getting basic information about them, then you're going to get burned.

"She literally left a key for a total stranger to her home, without doing ANY due-diligence. Someone basically sent her an email, and she said "okey-dokey, here's the keys, have fun.""

I don't use Airbnb from either side, but isn't the big problem here that you can't do due dilligence? As I understand it (and again, as a non-user maybe I am wrong), Airbnb pretty much blocks you from knowing too much about your temporary renter as a measure to avoid you using them as a match up service and then doing the deal directly to avoid paying them their fee.

I agree with you. I recently took a weekend vacation by the beach and did my very best to use AirBnB. The fact that email is the only way to communicate with the host made it really difficult for me to get a good feel for the place I was renting. I want to use AirBnB, I really do. But preventing me from typing my phone# in the text field really annoyed me. I don't think that renting a place is like buying an item on eBay where it is best that the seller and buyer not bypass the entire auction mechanism.

I don't mind at all if AirBnB gets a slice of my money and in fact I prefer to pay them than a random person. However, I want to talk to the host on the phone before I agree to anything. You can't express friendliness and warmth textually (or at least most people can't) but it is very easy to pick up on the tone over phone. In the end, I found a wonderful beach cottage via vrbo.com. If vrbo had a website like AirBnB, they would get my money every time. I understand the financial mechanism is very different on both sites but seriously, AirBnB, let me talk to potential hosts before I book anything - I will even pay a fee to become a premium-phone-enabled-renter.

A possible solution would be if AirBnB required hosts and guests to be friends on Facebook before a transaction could take place..this wouldn't prevent anyone from making a fake profile in order to seem more trustworthy, but this is an area where Facebook's privacy situation would be helpful. You can learn a lot about a person's character by examining his or her Facebook page.

And that's a good reason to avoid Airbnb, not a good reason to give a stranger your keys.

The guy spelled his name wrong- it doesn't take a rocket scientist to know something weird is going on.

As someone whose name looks like a misspelled English version of the name, I think you're jumping to conclusions there.

Jumping to conclusions is the name of the game when you're giving your the keys to your apartment to a stranger for a week.

The only due diligence possible is an AirBnB-provided, essentially anonymous, IM conversation. Anyone who attempts to use the AirBnB service who isn't running a legitimate short-term rental property (with all the associated insurance and safeguards) is playing russian roulette with their property and possessions. And if they're home during the rental they're potentially risking life and limb.

This is a failure of the business model. If they are unwilling to get into the business of creating a safe, vetted community for short-term rentals, they need to disallow personal rental properties and stick with full-time rental companies.

She pointed out in her post that AirBnB makes it close to impossible to do better checking on people, and she had the impression that this was because they were doing the vetting.

That's a step few people will bother to take, just as is the case with most vacation rentals. A credit card is enough ID for even commercial operations.

Her only real mistake was to leave her "passport, cash, credit card...grandmother’s jewelry...camera, iPod, an old laptop, and my external backup drive...birth certificate and social security card" in the apartment. It seems they were locked in a closet, but removing them from the house altogether would have taken a lot of the sting out of this unfortunate experience.

>but it rubs me the wrong way that AirBnB is getting this massive amount of bad press

Press is not that bad, they probably got substantial increase of awareness about their still niche service in the general public segment of the population. It's in the same category as iPhone 4 antenna issue - Apple would have to pay billions of dollars to get the same exposure on all TV channels, while this allowed general public to see new iPhone for free, to learn that all cool people have it and are worried about antenna, and to forget about antenna next day and buy it.

They SHOULD get bad press, their service is MASSIVELY risky.

After this incident I feel very disinclined to rent out my personal residence through Airbnb and I think a lot of people would feel the same way.

Unless they really need the money.

"left a key for a total stranger to her home"

Exactly. You have to be crazy to be a host with AirBNB

Registration is open for Startup School 2019. Classes start July 22nd.

Guidelines | FAQ | Support | API | Security | Lists | Bookmarklet | Legal | Apply to YC | Contact