Airbnb will now hide guest names on its app to prevent discrimination by hosts.
Following an adjustment in the way Airbnb displays users’ profiles in its app, hosts will now only see the initials of potential guests instead of their full names until a deal has been agreed. This rule, which applies only in Oregon, in the US, is aimed to help prevent discrimination.
The new method of profile display will come into effect by January 31.
Airbnb is making this change to combat discrimination from hosts against guests. It has been observed that some hosts decline guests based on their race by guessing with their surname. A study revealed that people with Black-sounding names are 16 percent less likely to be accepted by hosts on the platform compared to guests with those that appear white. Showing only initials will make it impossible for hosts to make such guesses.
A 2019 agreement to settle a lawsuit brought by a group of women in Portland was the main reason for this change. The Black women had accused Airbnb of allowing hosts to discriminate against people like them by mandating that users put their photos and names on their profiles. The company settled with the plaintiffs and agreed it would adjust how hosts see the profiles of potential guests while making bookings.
Airbnb has been active in racial justice and has introduced several measures on its platform. For example, it asks users to agree to its Airbnb Community Commitment, which requires them not to discriminate. The platform also has a program, Project Lighthouse, meant to investigate discrimination. It will research trends and patterns that portray discrimination during bookings.
The platform has already stopped requiring guests to provide their profile photos, although hosts are allowed to request them during booking. Even before the lawsuit by the Portland women, Airbnb had been hiding photos from the hosts before a booking was confirmed. It has proven to be controversial, with some users pointing out that the move could end up putting the people it wanted to protect at risk. Some guests have said they would prefer to be rejected by a racist host than be forced on them and exposed to violence. This line of thinking is not without merit.
What is not clear yet is what direction Airbnb is taking with this update. It has not indicated if or when it will roll out concealing full names to Airbnb hosts outside Oregon. When The Verge reached out to the company, spokesperson Liz DeBold Fusco declined to address the question directly.
Reproduced below is part of Airbnb’s blog post announcing the latest update:
“Today, we are sharing an update to the way we display profile names of guests who are Oregon residents during the booking process. Hosts will start seeing an Oregon guest’s initials in place of the guest’s first name until a booking request is confirmed. After a booking is confirmed, the guest’s name will appear. This change will be fully implemented by January 31, 2022 and in effect for at least two years.
“This update is consistent with the voluntary settlement agreement we reached in 2019 with individuals in Oregon who raised concerns regarding the way guests’ names are displayed when they seek to book a listing. As part of our ongoing work, we will take any learnings from this process and use them to inform future efforts to fight bias.
“While we have made progress, we have much more to do and continue working with our Hosts and guests, and with civil rights leaders to make our community more inclusive.”
Airbnb started its operation in 2007 and has grown to four million hosts. It has notched more than one billion arrivals in more than 220 countries and territories. It is offered as an alternative for visitors that want to experience the locality in the most authentic way.