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Vandalised home puts pressure on Airbnb (ft.com)
318 points by arghnoname on July 29, 2011 | hide | past | web | favorite | 138 comments

The question now is will this be the Hindenburg moment of this type of services, or is it just a speed bump?

We'll see how all this bad press is going to spread across the rest of the mainstream media and tabloids. I know we are all disappointed with the way airbnb handled the situation, but we really shouldn't be happy if all the sensation seeking press starts using this to boost their sales, and in the process damages this market beyond repair.

I think this may be the Hindenburg moment for services like this built purely on trust. Trust alone is a naive defence that only works when your user base is small and well aligned with your core concepts. In many ways its the coming of age of the concept when it starts appealing to crooks. Mandatory insurance and more strict user verification is the only way this kind of service will survive.

Crooks? Someone that would seriously vandalize someone's home is not really a "crook" but a victim of some sort of mental health problem. There will always (in any area of life) be a small percentage of people who do that sort of thing.

The perp also stole money, passports etc.

Yeah but crooks is the biggest understatement I've ever heard. This is a bizarre, mean-spirited act... not simply theft.

Wait--so the guy who trashed the house is a victim?

Someone who would do that is more likely suffering from some sort of mental health problem than simply being mean. Do you know any normal, healthy, reasonable person who would do that?

There is lots of evil in the world. Your statement is far too broad of a generalization to be taken seriously.

There is lots of evil in the world.

As a nonreligious person I just don't agree with that statement at all. The idea that there is some sinister force flowing around the earth is bizarre and medieval.

More accurately, non-insane people behave as they do in order to achieve a goal that they think will bring them happiness. Unless there is a motive of revenge or bad PR then there is no way that the degree of vandalism done in this case could possibly make the vandal happy. Anyone who would go to great lengths to destroy all traces of a stranger's personal property is mentally ill.

Mental illness has a material cause, not a supernatural one.

As everyone keeps telling you, you can't attribute that vandalism to mental health problems. It may be the case but you don't know. I guess you need counter examples to stop saying it:

1. Drugs

2. Thieves who knew/thought they'd get away with this, thus also wrecked the place (Occam's Razor will suggest this)

3. As you mentioned yourself - revenge or bad PR.

I use the word evil as a descriptor of people without guilt or shame when hurting others. Maybe they are down on their luck, addicted to drugs, or just hateful, but I don't think you have to be religious to believe in evil.

I agree entirely, and I think you have made an important point.

The person who did this is mentally unbalanced, and needs help.

I find it curious that you say that. A thief is not just someone who shifts a few numbers in a spreadsheet, a thief tends to break things in order to gain access to valuables, or threaten people's lives. The line between that and willful vandalism is not so terribly thick.

I'd say it's closer to the Hindenburg moment.

These services are great as long as it's part of a small, insular community of like-minded people. Once the criminal element sees it for the opportunity it is, it's over.

There's an obvious analogy here to email and spammers.

I suppose it could still work if the vetting process is better, but there will always be those who mask their identity and "sneak in". The cost of this to a criminal is probably minimal while the potential rewards are great. Perhaps the key is to create smaller "circles" of trust within the wider community.

So ... email was destroyed by spammers? I didn't know about that; could you email me the details?

Email is certainly not dead, but a major value-add of services like Facebook et al is that you can only get messages from people you know. http://www.readwriteweb.com/archives/facebook_eats_away_at_e...

Maybe I'd buy this if you used Google+ as an example instead. As far as I'm concerned I get many times more spam on Facebook than through email - only once every few months does a message from a Nigerian prince slip through gmail's spam filter, but multiple times a week I get a FB message that someone I vaguely knew 3 years ago lost their phone and needs numbers, is having a party thousands of miles away, etc.

That's your own damn fault for telling Facebook you trust that person. Manage your friend list and the problem disappears entirely.

Yes because trust is an all or nothing thing in the real world.

Facebook encourages its users to add lots and lots of friends to your main friend pool, and always has. It's spent most of its existence trying to get lots of users and build a huge social graph. Having hundreds upon hundreds of "friends" is the norm, not the exception - there's no emphasis on keeping your set of facebook friends small and tight-nit.

Spam is a problem with a technical solution. Determining the 'goodness' of a person seems a lot harder.

Sounds like a research problem to me. What about an equivalent of Klout score? (just kidding).

Or better yet, Erdős number.

I wouldn't argue that email was 'destroyed' by spammers, but it definitely helped reduce its relevancy from my perspective considering that I assume 75%+ of all emails I receive on my non-work address to not be worth looking at.

Spam is a solved problem. If you're seeing that much spam you should re-evaluate what filters you have working.

Not to get offtopce, but spam is not "solved". Solving spam would be something that does not require a user to implement filters and other mechanisms to auto-sort things into a junk box.

A solution would be one which prevents the sending of the spam in the first place, or an auto-rejection mechanism that was 100% passive and 100% accurate.

Spam is merely a problem that is manageable with some ultimately clunky tools.

I disagree. All sorts of things use filters to solve problems. From my point of view (an end user), I don't have to configure or manage my spam filters, I just end up not getting spam. I used to, it sucked. But now I don't and it's the same email address. I consider the problem solved.

Right. Just like the internal combustion engine is a kludge because you need to change the air filters in your car. A real solution would be an engine that didn't need filters, anything else is just a clunky hack.

An IC engine would run just fine for quite a long while with no air or oil filters. The filters are there to prolong its lifespan, but are not strictly necessary for basic operation.

How long would your email be usable if you turned off your spam filters?

Engine aire filters are also preventing the INGRESS of foreign contaminants. Most spam filters are much closer to the receiver than the sender. So the spam email volume still moves through many servers, routers and networks before it is finally filtered out and stopped.

I don't think your analogy holds up at all.

There are two sides to the spam problem.

One is managing _your_ inbox. Yes, the tools are there, and if you're using any largish email service provider, you've probably got pretty effective filtering going on.

Try getting on the other side of it, though, and start _sending_ email from a new domain. The same mechanisms which "solve" the inbound problem create a _huge_ issue for outbound. Especially if, say, your business is somehow reliant on being able to reach out and communicate a message to people (I'm not even talking about marketing -- think of status notifications, account mailings, etc., etc.).

I'm a huge believer in email, don't get me wrong. I dislike most of the tools that have come along to "replace" it to some degree or another (how fast would SMS disappear in a mushroom cloud if spammers were to hit it like mail?). But it's gotten really, really creaky.

> 75%+ of all emails I receive on my non-work address to not be worth looking at.

If you use any of the major mail providers (gmail, hotmail, yahoo), you should not see 75% spam in your inbox. It's worth noting that email that's "not worth looking at" is not necessarily the same as spam. The group you mentioned includes both real spam (phishing, pills, etc) and gray mail (newsletter, notifications, etc). If most of your inbox is gray mail that you're not interested in maybe it's worth setting up some filter rules or consider unsubscribing to those mailing lists.

Gray mail is generally a difficult problem for spam filters to solve since a critical email to one person might be junk to another. There are evolving ways to improve this filter but it usually requires action on the user, such as clicking the junk button or deleting them without reading.

Email's taken a considerable hit. The challenge of running your own email server (even as a business) is considerably higher now than it was, say, in 2001. Hell, a lot of major ISPs won't even talk to you unless you jump through a lot of hoops (SPF, DKIM, and more).

Spam doesn't break into my house, pour yellow-brown crud all over the background, smash the walls, and take all my stuff.

It's shown me a few things that can't be unseen, though console-mode clients have distinct advantages sometimes.

Email is not a reliable way of communication anymore, because of the spammers. I have given up on checking my spam folder, which means there is a probability of ham getting lost.

Spam is just one of many things that slightly reduces the reliability of email, and Bayesian filtering has reduced it to a minor nuisance. The implication that email was ever completely reliable is false, there has always been a risk of mail servers going down, for example, but it was also reduced to a minor nuisance by modern redundancy techniques (for example).

The implication that there even exists an actually reliable way of communication I don't think is true either, that's why email is still so widely used.

I think it's a trade off of having a decentralized system vs. a centralized system. Just imagine if we could only use Gmail or Facebook for email--now that would be just plain scary.

I think the important thing to note is that this might be Airbnb's Hindeburg, however this was entirely preventable had they dealt with this sooner and correctly. This could be and (already is) a lesson on how to (not)deal with PR on a business built entirely on trust and community.

I remember the early days of ebay and stories of fraud. I don't think this will be the end. They need to make adjustments, but I don't think this is the "end" of this type of service.

I tend to agree. While the largest unknown independent variable here is how the Airbnb handles this crisis, I feel that they will be able to steer the ship through this.

I find it interesting how people handle crisis. You can act on feeling, or you can act on logic. They (airbnb) need to be more logic based in their approach and state the facts: Our system is not perfect. We are making adjustments. We will compensate this person for their loss. Instead, they are providing tons of great coverage to the press.

I think it's overblown. It's a one odd situation out of MANY good ones, same as couch surfing - from which airbnb is a commercialized version.

This is great practice for airbnb. Far worse things than this will happen as the service grows and they will need to be prepared to handle the absolute worst (eg craigslist killer type stuff). Get enough people together and bad stuff is certain to happen. It's just a matter of time.

They have failed in their handling to this point though.they are going to be lucky to survive, and they may take the industry with them.

Why or how have they failed? Even the person who was the victim in this case has basically had nothing but good things to say about AirBnb. I haven't been following this as closely as I follow some things, so maybe I've missed an angle.

edit: Nevermind, I missed this article. Sorry for the noise. http://techcrunch.com/2011/07/29/airbnb-victim-speaks-again-...

Yikes, if the implied allegations are true, they managed to do worse than bad press. They lied to generate good press. Did they not realize that would fail to stifle the truth and even worse, amplify the bad news?

The second blog post (linked above/below) is the problem. Before that, I thought this was a major crisis, but could be survived. After that (and the FT article), I really think they will be incredibly lucky to survive, much less continue their growth trajectory.

People who use startups early do so because of the human interactions. AirBnB destroyed that by not being humane with the woman (EJ?). Sure, she has culpability, but I guarantee making her "right" would have cost one or two orders of magnitude less than this is costing.

I would also expect the board to replace the CEO as a symbolic gesture. Somebody has to take the blame or they will not be able to get the next round raised.

The victim has updated her blog with a new post in which she explains how some of the public statements made by Airbnb's ceo are not true:


Wow guys, sorry 6 hours when this news was a few hours old, I hadn't seen it yet.

A totally great reason to dogpile and downvote. Do you people even take HN guidelines into account when voting these days?

Fwiw, you got an up vote from me. Your comment was out of date, not trolling. I'm really wondering if down voting needs to be removed from most people.

Oh, I'm not really worried about it. I seem to find that most people on HN, even when disagreeing, are happy to stay neutral or upvote for discussion. I suspect it's lurkers weighing in with their opinion that vote. It was pretty disheartening yesterday when a discussion turned nasty and was full of accusations that I was downvoting (and even in a place where it's impossible to downvote child comments).

I thought I'd go for a plea of sanity for those who are downvoting to consider why they're downvoting. It's so rare that I find anything worth downvoting and it's usually someone just being off the wall rude, mean or ignorant. Oh well.

This is great practice for airbnb.

What about this, exactly, is practice?

Practice for dealing with a public tragedy like a death or violent crime rather than a burglary. Point taken, 'experience' would be a better word.

Yes, experience would be a better word.

Why would anyone give the keys to their home to a total stranger? (And leave them on their own for a whole week?)

One word that answers most of these types of questions: money

I'd like to think that most people go through life being trustful of their fellow human .. no matter how horrid a world the media paints.

As a famous man once said: "Trust, but verify".

Citation plz.

The quote is usually assigned to Reagan. Quoting a russian proverb (that really does exist).


I know....twas a joke.

That's clever. By the extreme grayness of your text, I don't think many people got it.

Since I laughed out loud at this, perhaps I should explain the joke, since it's obvious that no one "got it."

You see, the original quote was "As a famous man once said: "Trust, but verify"."

Now, if you heed this advice in full, you can only trust that the famous man actually said "Trust, but verify" if you verify it first. A citation is simply a way to verify that a famous man actually said it.

What I don't understand is renting to a stranger... but leaving valuables in the house. At least put that stuff in storage while you're out.

Yes, this exactly. You're not letting your friends use your house. Trusting random strangers, getting burnt, and then saying that it's all the fault of the person who introduced you to them as a stranger makes no sense. Airbnb wasn't vouching for their renters any more than a hotel booking site does. You think hotels leave expensive unsecured items in all their rooms? Do you think hotels don't have a way of charging for damage? This person didn't think their actions through at all and now they're blaming everyone but who they should, themselves.

My eastern European friends have told me that Americans are strange with the example being that they need their coffee labeled hot whereas "normal" people know that coffee is hot. This is the same thing. Leaving very valuable things out when inviting strangers to stay in your house when you're not going to be present is just something "normal" people know not to do.

> Airbnb wasn't vouching for their renters any more than a hotel booking site does

The victim in this case stated that, before using Airbnb, she would normally perform background checks on potential renters. Airbnb, though, marketed themselves as a safe and reliable way of vacation renting, and implied that they took on the responsibility of this sort of screening. In fact, they make it impossible for users to do it themselves. Whether or not they do in fact screen renters, it doesn't sound unreasonable for the victim to have believed that they do.

> Leaving very valuable things out when inviting strangers to stay in your house

At one point in her blog, she does mention that she had taken everything of value and locked it in a closet that the guests did not have access to (and presumably did not know the contents). They literally broke the locked door down. Valuables aside, they also went on to damage or destroy nearly everything else in the house, valuable or not. Removing valuable items from the house entirely would still not have prevented the violation of her home.

I don't think it's at all fair to blame the victim here. It's not a simple matter of an American lacking common sense.

> they make it impossible for users to do it themselves

That seems like a fundamental problem with their business. I'm inclined to agree that unless they make a serious shift in the information they're providing to people providing rooms, their business isn't going to work much longer.

> locked it in a closet that the guests did not have access to

If it was the only locked closet in the house then it would have been rather obvious. You point is essentially valid though, hiding her stuff would not have prevented someone not interested in financial gain from destroying her house. However, not taking that basic step, irregardless of the intent of the strangers, seem to still lack "common sense".

I think warning stickers are just an odd artifact of an adversarial legal system designed to achieve safer products and services. People don't 'need' 40 safety stickers on a ladder or a 'warning: hot' label on a cup of coffee. In litigating personal injury suits, plaintiff's lawyers simply use e.g. lack of a sticker as grounds for a claim. The defendant says fine and adds another sticker. It's a messy system that sometimes results in pointless measures, but overall it has resulted in goods and services being much safer than they otherwise would be. And if the coffee reference refers to the McDonald's case, I think that one is totally different: they handed that lady a 180+ deg cup of liquid - that was negligent of them.

What about your TV? An expensive rug? Any desktop computers? Why doesn't AirBnB tell you that you may need to move hundreds of pounds worth of stuff out of your home to use their service safely?

What's to stop them from cooking meth in your home? From what EJ says, her bathroom smelled deathly horrible, and the arrested suspect had meth on them. You don't need valuables around for someone to turn your home into a meth lab.

Finally, this type of rental is advertised by AirBnB as a main use of their service. And they don't tell you that the only way to do so safely is to clear your home out of anything you'd like to see again - saying that up front is pretty bad for business.

And if you do, you should take as many precautions as possible. Airbnb handled this badly, but in truth it can just as easily happen to anyone renting out a property.

I don't understand why Airbnb aren't as rigorous as regular rental companies? And why they are not better educating their customers on security and crime prevention.

> I don't understand why Airbnb aren't as rigorous as regular rental companies?

Because they wouldn't be profitable if they were, it's too complicated and doesn't fit in their model. The regular rental companies would soon copy their model outpace them if they went that route.

Did anyone ask about this in their YC interviews? ;)

There's nothing new in the actual story. I thought it's placement on the front page (below the fold) of the print edition was significant. It's not exactly a tech publication.

What is "new" is that this is now getting a lot of exposure in the non-tech press, which it wasn't before. Techcrunch is relatively niche compared to FT, and hacker news is even more niche.

What this means for AirBnb is that for a great many readers of FT, if they haven't heard of AirBnB before, will have an opinion that the service is inherently unsafe (even if this is the 0.001% story). And once someone makes up their opinion on a product or service, it is very hard to make them change

I don't know what you mean by It's not exactly a tech publication. but this is not exactly a tech problem, this is a general business problem.

OK seriously, why did you feel the need to create a fake account to post that from?

Just to be clear to all the posters here, yes this is a throw away. I made this throw away because that is how I use HN. I had a good account a few months back called rick_2047[1] (yes that guy!). After that one got hell banned (my second or third hell ban I think) I have observed that I digress from most of the HN community on the meaning of the term "trolling". No biggie HN people, thats just a different point of view. No hard feelings (but I still would like that account back or at least have it purged)[2]. I don't have a strong urge to post comments these days (that is a con) but I am less of a karma whore now (thats a pro). Most of the articles here were and still are very irrelevant to me. I am not doing any startups so don't need all that knowledge and am not into CS so don't read those articles as well. But every once in a while something interesting and generic (as generic as it gets on HN) comes up and I feel the urge to comment. PG made it really easy to make a new account. I chose a few words relevant the comment and then post it. I check the thread for a day or two (because they are not active after that, also I usually don't post very interesting stuff). I read the guidelines and all. I didn't find any clause stating that one cannot have multiple accounts. If I have missed something please do tell me. But even after that I know I will keep doing this, but at least I know I am doing something illegal.

[1]http://news.ycombinator.com/user?id=rick_2047 (I think I made kind of a record with this one, of the most unpopular comment of all time, still would like conformation on that)

[2] If PG is reading this, which he most probably isn't, if you can be so kind and purge my account that would be great. Thanks in advance.

I don't get it - couldn't it just be the first time (s)he has commented? I originally made my account in order to post my first reply to something.

Note the name chosen, and the second and third words that (s)he quoted.

I'd just assume that they needed to create an account to comment and picked the first username that came to mind. Quite logically, this was a couple of words from the reply that they had already formulated in their mind.

Maybe it's the start of a reddit like novelty account. There sure are a lot of "not exactly" situations on HN. Could make a karma mint on any patent thread.

Wow, now I wish I'd thought of having a notexactly account.

Maybe I'll have to settle for yesbut

You may have this one (if you can live with a throwaway). I have posted my original account in a comment above. It has my email ID in it. Email me and I will give you the password. Before that I will make a comment here stating that I have transfered the account and will wait till the delete option is gone. Seems fair?

Is it still called a "mint" if it's all downvotes?

Don't new users show up as green?

> (below the fold)

web 1.0 term now in disuse. As soon as a story, any story, is disseminated by a world renown publication such as the Financial Times, it might as well be the main story for the amount of time the long tail decides to keep it alive.

It's a business problem; the tech part to AirBnB was just the application. Developers should get used to the fact that their apps grow up, move away and marry business people.

Point taken, but 'below the fold' is most assuredly not a web 1.0 term when we're talking about a printed publication.

In today's terms, a printed publication is entirely below the fold.

It would cost a fraction of their recent raise to make this woman whole again, at least financially.

They should have brought her in, given her a heartfelt apology from the executive team, and paid her a large lump sum. In return she would sign a NDA.

> In return she would sign a NDA

It depends what’s in the NDA. If AirBnB are acting honorably and correctly, there is no nead to silence me about what happened to me and how they responded.

About the furthest I would >personally< go is agreeing not to disclose the exact amount of compensation. That’s a fairly normal term, and the usual reason is to prevent scammers from being enticed into fraudulent claims of damages, or for others to use my settlement as a baseline for negotiations.

Other than that, asking me not to talk about something that actually happened is wrong. If they do A and B and C in the negotiating room, well, they ought to stand behind my talking about A and B and C, at least in general terms.

Trying to “buy my silence” would raise my hackles, and I would immediately presume that they were an untrustworthy organization that prefers guile and miscommunication to honest dealing.

>JM2C, it’s a matter of personal conscience to decide what to accept or refuse. But it’s also a matter of public perception. If I read that they settled with her and she agreed as a term of the settlement not to talk about it... I would make certain inferences about AirBnB. Of course, this has not happened so we are speaking only of a hypothetical situation.<

> Trying to “buy my silence” would raise my hackles

Same here; if I were in such a predicament I don't think there's any amount that would justify signing a NDA.

I'm wondering if this is what happened? As the story stands, one side is clearly not telling the truth, or withholding a part of it.

What could have happened could have been, Airbnb offered compensation + NDA, victim said she wouldn't sign it. Back and forth a few times, and in the end she went ahead with her blog post. Seeing this, Airbnb stopped all communications.

If this is actually what happened, they should have offered compensation anyway, no strings attached.

It'll be very interesting to know the real details; I don't understand how they could let this blow out of proportion like this.

> In return she would sign a NDA

Would work OK if she took it, but only until it happens the next time. AirBNB cannot afford to make 'pay them to shut up' a policy.

And if she took the moral highground, it would look very bad indeed. And the money could not replace the stolen personal items, which makes her accepting "take this cash and shut up about it" less likely.

AirBNB cannot afford to make 'pay them to shut up' a policy.

Are you sure about that? I imagine it depends on how often it occurs, and what kind of liability insurance they can arrange. Since they claim to have over 2 million uses of their system, and this is the first case we're hearing about, I'd suggest that it may in fact be the case that they cannot afford not to have a 'pay them to shut up' policy.

An NDA would be shady. Besides, if you do everything you can for a person, and they're happy as a pig, you want them talking to everyone they can.

If what you do doesn't make them happy, you've got bigger problems.

That wouldn't fix the underlying trust problem.

Trust problem with AIrbnb? Or trust that if you let a random person into your house they aren't going to do anything harmful. I don't think Airbnb is to blame at all here, its kind of like blaming craigslist because you go ripped off when trying to sell something but got ripped off instead. If you rent your house out to random people you should protect yourself against having your life ruined if something does happen.

It's not AirBnB's fault per se, but it's definitely their problem, because it puts their entire business model in doubt.

never imagined this type of thing would happen in startups - top level bureaucracy. Doesn't this happen in big corps?

Maybe I'm looking at this whole black cloud of bad PR in a simplistic way but why is it so hard to bring EJ over or fly over to her, assess the situation, put her in a hotel, replace her stuff, help her find a new place. Doing that will get AirBnB much much more popularity than their famous cereal box story that we've heard so much of.

Other times when people get their houses ransacked while on vacation, we don't have a flap of stories about the post office leaving mail in the mailboxes. A criminal decided to use AirBNB to find an empty apartment and provide cover.

It is important for them to react well to this, but they just can't provide real security. And they shouldn't have to, they're matchmakers.

All this media attention is going to make them feel like they need to do everything, but past the basics of providing good customer service lies a few good measures and a lot of security theater. They're being hammered to do the impossible because they are novel.

>These included doubling the size of its customer support team, setting up a 24-hour telephone hotline, and offering insurance products.

That is a pretty weak response. Peddling insurance...really?

Even worse I can't really think of a better response. i.e. The model might be inherently flawed & un-fixable.

It won't be long until the tabloids pick this up and run with it, applying their own sensationalist inaccuracies. I think Airbnb have to act quickly to fix this before it turns into a Fox affiliate human interest story and damages their reputation irreconcilably.

Can't speak to American papers, but it certainly won't be big news in UK tabloids, if it's mentioned at all. The FT cares because it's business, tabloids won't care because it's not a particularly well-known business (over here).

tabloids won't care because it's not a particularly well-known business (over here).

1) I actually started using Airbnb because a non-technical friend used it and said it was great. It's more widespread than you think, even in Europe.

2) Tabloids will love the human interest angle, and be quite happy to blame "internet startups" in general for ruining this person's life. Accuracy is optional in a lynch mob.

I suspect you're wrong, but perhaps I am, who knows. The way I see it is we've all heard of Hilton or Marriot hotels, and if something went down in a hotel room in one of those chains, papers wouldn't cover it because of the company, their decision would be based purely on how interesting what happened was. In this case, someone having their appartment robbed, without tying it into business/tech it's not all that interesting as news.

So, while people may know the name of AirBNB (I still suspect that actually not a huge number over here know it, just seems more widespread because it only takes a few non-tech people to know about something well known in the tech scene for it to seem widespread to us), I don't know if people who care about it only for the rooms, and don't care about the actual company, will give much thought to this news.

Just give them a slow day and I'm sure they will be all over it. It's like those crimes that are somehow related to games or comics, "the murderer was reenacting his favorite scene!" or "the victim refused to give his character's login!"

Agreed ... and even without inaccuracies, such stories typically get framed with the service as the problem. In the UK a few years ago there was a big story about a teenager who held a party while her parents were away. She advertised it on Facebook, word spread and the house got trashed. Parts of the media emphasised the Facebook angle when they covered the story. Would they have blamed lampposts or flyers handed out at school if she had advertised the party that way?

Not analogous, because in this case the business intentionally facilitated the arrangement, it's their whole business model.

I think more importantly, could this have been prevented? They should have done the proper research on the risks involved.

They should also have provided users with a quick (even webpage) on risks involved and precautions people can take and make. And provide the users more background info on the renter. It's not as simple as running a hotel.

To me this looks and feels like a story of simple thinking and bad iterating. I doubt this is the only case out there. There should have been a lot of minor issues as well. And we all know it starts small before it becomes a tornado and tears your house and community down.

The last line of her most recent blog post pretty much sums up the entire thrust of her story and its problems for Airbnb:

"And for those who have so generously suggested a donation fund be set up to help me recover, I thank you from the bottom of my heart, and suggest that instead, you keep the money and use it to book yourself into a nice, safe hotel room the next time you travel. You’ll be glad you did."

How does using a hotel when you travel, help prevent your home from being burglarized while you're away?

My first thought was "business opportunity to offer insurance to airbnb customers".

Apparently there are already websites up to do just that.

It looks like AirBnB themselves may also be working on providing an insurance policy. I wonder if it'll cost extra?


Good luck being able to cover all a person's personal heirlooms that cost thousands.

As long as the volume of insurance related payouts is small enough and the volume of customers purchasing insurance is large enough, then it's a viable business model. In fact, that's how insurance works (and how it stops working when there are major catastrophes that cause the number of claims to spike dramatically).

Usually property insurance works as a percentage of the insured amount. If I were to rent out my house I'd put my treasured heirlooms into storage/safe deposit box.

I'm a little surprised it took this long to start showing up in print, as it were. I'll also be interested in seeing if they do a followup with her latest post.

This long? The initial blog post went viral yesterday only... So to be in todays print edition I guess they wrote it last night or during the night...

Yes, but the actual incident and blog post was weeks ago, and this is the kind of combination of thing that rags like to pick up on-- harshly-treated victim, forgotten by an up-and-coming company that doesn't know how to spin PR properly.

Yeah, but do you think that they follow all the blogs by non-celebrities... no

At this point in time, I wonder if it's in pg's best interest to cut loss, and sever the relationship with airbnb altogether. Sell yc's stake in airbnb, and avoid talking about them ever again.

Sure, airbnb has a $1b valuation for now. But does anybody really think they're worth $1b after this, and only on an estimated $10M cumulative revenue? (not to mention the pending stock market collapse and IPO window closing, precipitated by US default next Tuesday)

They have a pretty toxic public image now amongst early adopters, and will only get worse. They have a business process which now appears to be broken, and it will cut into their already miniscule revenue to fix it. They do not have a moral/charismatic leader that can guide them thorough an important crisis like this. They are deemed illegal in many parts of US, and will likely be more so later once more mainstream media picks up on it.

On top of that, they are destroying yc's precarious image. And they're dragging this entire mess on all the other yc's startups (the other yc founders have to stand up to defend airbnb. Other applicants realizes that the best performing company in yc is one that does evil)

With the exception on the potential hit to AirBnB, I think you've overstated every single claim in your post. Of course, I have no evidence of market effects; only time will tell, but YC is not going to be judged and thrown out as unworthy because one company has a significant (perhaps deadly to the company) issue.

And why does YC have a "precarious image"? I've never heard anything of that nature. Every YC person whom I've spoken to (albeit not a huge percentage!) has loved the program.

Some aging statistical research shows that if you have a bad experience you'll share it with 26 other people; having a good experience nets only 13 people. Multiply that by the internet and predict the market effects.

As disastrous as this is to EJ and her life, I think it'll be the utter ruin of AirBnB.

I think you're overstating the case. It's just another problem to be solved.

The short-term solution is to take care of EJ, make her whole as much as possible. So far they seem to be botching that, but it's not a lost cause yet, and I doubt it's enough to destroy them in the long term.

The long-term solution is multi-part:

1. figure out a new renter's insurance they can offer as an optional product to property owners. Difficult, but I'm sure there's some intrepid banker or actuary looking to make a name for themselves. Maybe they can require all AirBnB properties pay a small fee into an insurance fund that's backed by a derivative that gets sliced and diced in some clever way and resold on the secondary market, or whatever.

2. Step up the Facebook integration. Make it more prominent. Base the site around real identity, users' social graphs, etc.

I also don't see this destroying YC's (precarious? really?) image. YC has hundreds of companies now, several large exits. This issue with AirBnB isn't going to hurt them in any way that matters. It's not like Ron Conway and Yuri Milner are going to withdraw their investements, or promising startup founders will stop applying all of a sudden.

"At this point in time, I wonder if it's in pg's best interest to cut loss, and sever the relationship with airbnb altogether. Sell yc's stake in airbnb, and avoid talking about them ever again."

Give them a chance to rectify this ONE publicized incident before throwing them under the bus.

Thankfully, I would think most level headed investors would feel the same.

Where did you see that AirBnB has only 10M cumulative revenue? That seems way too low.

Someone else did this rough math in one of the (seemingly numerous) AirBnB threads we've had recently...

2 millions nights (claimed) @ $50 per night (est.) with 10% cut (est.) = $10m revenue

Its not a customer service issue..hold on wait..let me explain..

Its an identity problem..How do you have processes and procedures in place that uses identity as the qualifier of being able to trust a person to temp rent to ? Fro example, world wide what do we use as the identifier to get all this info? Is it a credit card number? Is it a credit card number and other pieces of info?

Look at the processes of PayPal..similar identity/trust problem or Amazon Stores..

I submit that Airbnb has not solved the identity/trust set of problems yet and that is their stumbling block not reactions to customer problems as the techmedia has blarred..

I agree that they haven't solved the identity/trust set of problems.

However, in the absence of a solution to those problems, it's the customer service issue that's killing them.

If they had been aggressive in their customer service, reaching out to EJ, and doing whatever it took to resolve the situation, plus some, they could have turned this into a PR coup, or at least, mitigated the fall-out substantially.

Instead, they magnified the problem significantly.

The identity/trust set of problems was solved long ago by hotels and most other businesses: when the customer arrives you meet him, check his id, get payment info and show him his room. You can take pictures of him if you wish (e.g., security cameras in the lobby). A check-out process should also occur.

The AirBnB contract should be between rentor and owner of rental property: AirBnB's participation should be only as an agent. That limits liability and makes clear what is expected of each party.

IMO AirBnB should not be responsible. This is looking more and more like a shakedown of AirBnB or preparation for a lawsuit.

Exactly. Every vacation rental I've ever had asked me for my ID and often, a refundable deposit to cover damages. When I used AirBnB in Paris, the owner asked to see my passport.

There is no such thing as bad publicity

BS. Perhaps the vast majority of publicity can be made positive for you, but if you screw up in your handling, you can get eaten alive.

AirBnB had a chance to make this publicity tolerable. Instead, they worried about "precedent" and "cost" and, in a fit of immaturity, tried to sweep it under the rug. Every one of those actions have magnified the severity of this crisis.

Now, instead of them being in the drivers seat of the story with some control of the fire, they are subject to whatever the winds want to do with it. In both cases, stuff gets burned, but it's usually not houses, businesses, and people in a controlled burn.

Danger, Will Robinson.

Has there been any verification anywhere that this actually happened, beyond just two blog posts?

I would take the response by brianchesky as an authoritative source indicating that it did actually happen.

It just seems a little too perfect to me. With the amount of money at stake in disrupting the hotel business it is not impossible that the event was staged. Her writing is just a little too perfect and why doesn't she respond to emails from the press?


It seems like the only person who has talked to her is the CEO of airbnb

With his business model at stake, don't you think the CEO is smart enough to do some basic vetting before giving a response that acknowledges the veracity of the alleged crime?

EJ may be anonymous to the rest of the world (though her blog has lengthy posts from as long as two years ago...pretty good trolling setup if she were a troll, even though you can backdate posts), but presumably, airbnb has all of her personal information, and as an tech-savvy startup, has conducted basic online research of her (her credit card was obviously valid; does she have a FB account. does googling her bring up any connection to the hotel industry, etc.?)

I'm not jumping on the conspiracy theory bandwagon and think that the idea is nonsense, but hypotheticall, if I were trying to make Airbnb look bad (and had had spare cash to do it with), I wouldn't just pay someone to say it happened, I'd also per someone to rent the appartment, and actually do this stuff, so that any checks show the crime did indeed happen.

Sure...but the more people you bring into the conspiracy, the more likely it is to be found out. Of course airbnb will call the cops into investigating this. If this were a setup, EJ and her fellow perpetrators made it MUCH more complicated than it needed to be. The alleged homewrecking occurred over a lengthy time period and involved not only simple burglary, but destruction of walls and bizarre behavior (such as the picture moving). Moreover, they apparently left a lengthy e-paper trail. If EJ faked all of that, she gave the cops and airbnb a lot of avenues to poke holes in the story, such as checking timestamps, IP addresses, even the linguistics in these alleged email exchanges.

What would the hotel industry have to gain? The beatdown of a website that has yet to reach mainstream consciousness...Airbnb is a long ways from being the Netflix to the hotel industry's Blockbuster Video. What do they have to lose? Hmmm...millions, maybe a billion in liability and legal fees, nevermind prison sentences for the numerous people involved in such a scheme.

Also, look at the date of the original post: http://ejroundtheworld.blogspot.com/2011/06/violated-travele...

June 29. I only found out about this through HN a day ago, and that seems like when this all went viral.

Maybe I'm underestimating the hotel industry's savviness and patience here...but why would it wait for a viral campaign to serendipitously happen, as opposed to going through their considerable resources of outreach and media contacts? EJ could've easily made a sincere-in-appearance call out to a Bay Area publication...hell, even Patch...instead, she apparently left only a blogpost.

And hell, her blogpost is terrible SEO: "Violated: A traveler’s lost faith, a difficult lesson learned" One thing I would expect of big-calcified-industry folks to have at least down is their SEO bulls*.

If a major hotel company were clever and innovative enough to pull this off without being exposed (which would include not only faking the fake crime emails, but hiding the emails they used to internally discuss all of this...something that no business, such as the financial giants, have yet done successfully) it's far, far more likely they would've come up with a better Internet business model by now.

I guess you are right - If the CEO had any doubt he could try to float that angle. And if it were a planted story you would expect it to come from the mainstream press instead of bubbling up organically.

I would just like to see some basic reporting from a mainstream news outlet instead of just repeating blog posts.

Speaking of fact checking - I just checked out some of her old posts and they are pretty extensive and point to the fact she is probably a travel writer - that would explain the excellent writing. I thought there were only 3 posts on her blog, there have only been 3 this year - but there are dozens of extensive posts with many pictures going back 2 years.

Strange that a straightforward question gets voted down like this. Is it really an unreasonable question to ask?

AirBnB's CEO had a response on TechCrunch stating a suspect was in custody, which would seem to indicate they agree at least that something illegal happened.

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