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.
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.
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.
The person who did this is mentally unbalanced, and needs help.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
A totally great reason to dogpile and downvote. Do you people even take HN guidelines into account when voting these days?
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.
What about this, exactly, is practice?
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.
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.
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.
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".
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.
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.
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? ;)
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
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)
 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.
Maybe I'll have to settle for yesbut
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.
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.
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.<
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.
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.
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.
If what you do doesn't make them happy, you've got bigger problems.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
"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."
Apparently there are already websites up to do just that.
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)
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.
As disastrous as this is to EJ and her life, I think it'll be the utter ruin of AirBnB.
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.
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.
2 millions nights (claimed) @ $50 per night (est.) with 10% cut (est.) = $10m revenue
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..
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 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.
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.
It seems like the only person who has talked to her is the CEO of airbnb
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.?)
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:
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 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.