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Airbnb takes steps to curb discrimination after #AirbnbWhileBlack

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Home-sharing giant Airbnb has instituted new policies to fight discrimination — but only time will tell if the new steps are effective and sufficient.

Outcry about discrimination grew this spring after public complaints in three separate incidents of alleged discrimination, according to Forbes. Two black men and a transgender woman each went public with their complaints about being rejected by Airbnb hosts when they applied for accommodation reservations.

Other Airbnb guests who said they had experienced discrimination joined the discussions on Twitter, at times using the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack. Airbnb reacted by removing some hosts from the house-sharing service.

After calls for more comprehensive changes from civil rights activists, the company launched a 90-day study of discrimination and how Airbnb deals with complaints. Airbnb hired former ACLU director Laura Murphy to head up the study. Former attorney general Eric Holder, fair housing attorney John Relman, and diversity researcher Dr. Robert Livingston assisted Murphy in the review.

The report found discrimination does occur on the Airbnb platform and suggested changes to fight it.

“We wanted to not focus on a single remedy, but to surround the issue with a variety of solutions so that nondiscrimination becomes self-reinforcing behavior,” Murphy told Forbes. “A set of policies and practices that reflect all the aspects of discrimination, to put a blanket over the fire so it doesn’t have the oxygen to thrive.”

Changes recommended by the group included easier reporting and resolution of discrimination complaints. Also, a 24/7 team will assist people in finding another Airbnb accommodation where required.

Hosts who turn down bookings for specific dates will no longer be able to accept other bookings for the same dates. By blocking dates where guest booking was rejected, hosts will not, for example, be able to turn down a request from a black guest and then accept a request from a white guest for the same time. Automated calendar blocking starts in 2017.

Airbnb has also formed a 12-person internal team to look for and eradicate discrimination throughout the company platform. Airbnb is setting goals to increase diversity among its U.S. workforce and will assess managers on their diversification efforts.

Airbnb has stated it will not remove photos or otherwise anonymize guest profiles, but will remind all parties of the new nondiscrimination policies on booking. The company will also feature more prominently listings from hosts who complete a new anti-bias training course.

When Eric Holder discussed the Airbnb host discrimination issue with Forbes he said he wasn’t surprised that race had become an issue. “Implicit bias is something that this country has been grappling with for hundreds of years. It will take an entity or individual to come up with something that is paradigm-challenging and gutsy to help solve it.”

Whether Airbnb’s new anti-discrimination policies are strong enough remains to be seen, but it seems clear at least that the company has taken the matter seriously and is taking steps to correct the problem.

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