If you live in an urban apartment building, you probably don't know everyone you see passing through the building, especially if some of those people are staying for just a few nights in the Airbnb room at the place down the hall. Being a resident of the building, it might be nice to know whether you had the option of going to Airbnb with low-level complaints that may not seem worth taking to the police.
You might already be able to guess that there's a catch coming here.
With a new feature, you indeed can put such concerns on record with Airbnb. The company announced Tuesday that it was launching a page where neighbors could anonymously lodge complaints and concerns, such as frustration with noise levels: airbnb.com/neighbors.
"Neighbors can submit information without having their name disclosed to a host or allow our team to pass along their contact information so the host can follow up with them directly. Once a neighbor submits feedback, we will send a confirmation email, along with a case number," reads the post.
So what's the problem with this? It could provide neighbors opportunity to submit complaints rooted more in racial bias or other prejudice than in actual legitimate concern. Are the Airbnb guests loud, or is a neighbor saying they're loud because the guests are black and the person submitting the complaint was on high alert for anything to complain about?
This neighbor complaint tip box is brand new, so there hasn't been an opportunity to evaluate whether it's providing a vehicle for prejudice. But discrimination is a familiar issue for Airbnb.
Late last year, a trio of Harvard researchers found "widespread discrimination against African-American guests." The researchers created fictional guests with African-American-sounding names and found those guests were 16 percent less likely to be accepted as boarders than potential guests with white-sounding names.
Airbnb has already given some thought to how discrimination could arise in the case of neighbors filing complaints. A company representative tells Inc. that company staff will be manually reviewing complaints and have been trained to identify bias. The company expects existing resources will be sufficient for handling the new complaint feature on grounds that complaints are rare.
The representative referred Inc. to the company's blog post from last month about steps the company was taking to "build on our current policies and help achieve our goals" of minimizing occurrences of discrimination through the Airbnb app. Efforts included expanded training in identifying instances of bias.
"In the coming months, we will enhance the trainings these teams receive to include specific instruction on how to identify and combat hosts who may be inappropriately refusing to share their space with certain guests," reads the post.