Airbnb Launches Project to Measure, Battle Racism

Project Lighthouse to examine discrimination between Airbnb hosts & guests

Some racism is more subtle and insidious than others, like home share hosts refusing guests based on their name. Airbnb's efforts, which include learning and ultimately action, could ensure that guests in the U.S. and, eventually, the world, are all treated fairly.

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Staying in an Airbnb is a leap of faith. You don't know the hosts and they don't know you, but you each have an expectation of care, comfort, and respect. Sometimes, that last part doesn't pan out. On Monday, Airbnb announced Project Lighthouse to help the home-sharing service better understand why discrimination happens on its platform.

The details: Project Lighthouse, which kicks off in the U.S. on June 30, is essentially a research project launched with civil rights organizations, including Color of Change and Upturn.

What are they looking at: Even though Airbnb bookings can happen quickly (the app is free and you can find places to stay and book them via your mobile phone), hosts and even guests usually have time to look at things like first names and profile pictures, which they may use to assess race and then, perhaps, make judgments or booking decisions based on those attributes.

A history: Airbnb has been working on addressing this issue since 2016 when, after a series of complaints, it was sued for discrimination. The company reports removing over a million people from the service for refusing to treat others without judgment or bias.

Your information: Unless you opt-out, the study will automatically include all U.S. hosts and guests. However, all information Project Lighthouse is analyzing will be separated from actual profiles. In addition, Airbnb is not using facial recognition or machine learning to analyze images, though it did not rule out its use in the future.

Airbnb says: "Project Lighthouse alone won’t end discrimination on our platform, but it’s an important step that can help us identify discrimination that would otherwise go undetected."

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