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How Airbnb plans to 'go beyond what the law requires' to address discrimination

Via Airbnb Blog

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Head to Airbnb's website and you'll be invited to explore the world and "belong anywhere".

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But not all users of the online vacation rental platform have felt so welcome. There have been complaints of racial discrimination by Airbnb's hosts, inspiring the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack. A Harvard Business School Study that began last year, found that guests with traditionally black-sounding names were more likely to be denied a booking than people with white-sounding names.

Last month, Airbnb said it would conduct a widespread anti-discrimination review of its platform and last week the company announced that former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder had been hired to craft the company's new anti-discrimination policy.

Laura Murphy, former head of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington DC legislative office, was retained by AirBnB to lead the review process joined Take Two to discuss the company's strategy to combat discrimination.

Interview Highlights

You're halfway through this review process, walk us through what you're doing.

"I started around June 2nd and what we did was develop a strategy to look at Airbnb's platform, it's policies and it's partnerships to figure out how it could make sure that the platform is not discriminating and even go further, make sure that the company itself was a more diverse operation. Make sure that the people in customer service understood how to handle things like discrimination. Make sure that the policies were clear, that Airbnb doesn't tolerate discrimination. And so what I did was set out a strategy with the company leadership, with the CEO, about all the areas that needed to be developed to address any racial discrimination problems on the platform and also discrimination at large, discrimination based on sexual orientation, disabilities, all of the protected classes.

Laura, that sounds like one very long laundry list.

"Oh yeah, it's a huge laundry list. The thing with discrimination is that, unless you cover all of the areas where discrimination manifests, you're really not going to make a big dent. I say almost jokingly to my colleagues at Airbnb, discrimination is like ants around a house. You can spray the front door but the ants will still come in through the windows. So, you need to look at all aspects of the operation to deal with the discrimination problem effectively."

What will Eric Holder do at Airbnb and how does it fit into what you're doing?

"I'm in charge of the 90-day review process, but it was my strong belief that we should avail ourselves of experts from around the nation and you cannot a get a greater expert on civil rights enforcement than the formal Attorney General who made this a huge part of his legacy. We've got great minds that we're bringing to this problem because we want to get it right, because the sharing economy is going to just grow in size and not all of the previous civil rights laws really apply in this new economy, but Airbnb wants a policy to be fair and nondiscriminatory as part of its makeup. So, we're going to go beyond what the law requires in this area." 

Murphy also spoke about how Airbnb has fallen short, speaking with guests who have been discriminated and more. What do you think of Airbnb's plan? Let us know in the comments.

To hear the full interview, click the blue play button above.