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12/13/2015

To Combat Racial Bias By Airbnb Hosts, Try Blind Reservations

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Discrimination by Airbnb hosts is a challenge we need to solve.
Alexander Howard
Senior Editor for Technology and Society, The Huffington Post

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  12/10/2015 06:52 pm ET | Updated 2 days ago

A new Harvard study found racial discrimination by Airbnb hosts ­­ a poignant

HuffPost

reminder that new technology doesn't automatically eliminate old problems.

Tech
As Bloomberg Business reported, researchers at the Harvard Business School
found that people with names that sounded African­American had a harder time
booking a place to stay on Airbnb than people with names like this correspondent's.
The authors conducted a field experiment that examined 6,400 listings on Airbnb in
five cities, concluding that "requests from guests with distinctively African­American
names are roughly 16% less likely to be accepted than identical guests with

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distinctively White names."
That difference was the same regardless of whether the host was African­
American, white or female, whether the property was expensive or cheap, or

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whether the host shared the property. The bias came at a price for hosts as well.
According to the researchers, hosts who rejected guests they believed were
African­American found a replacement guest just 35 percent of the time.
One approach that corporations and nonprofits like the Sunlight Foundation have
used in recent years to increase the diversity of their hiring pools is to use "blind
auditions."
In blind hiring, applicants separate information that identifies them ­­ like their name
­­ from their qualifications, expressed in a resume, cover letter, and portfolio of
design or software projects. 
The technique, applied to on­demand companies like Airbnb and Uber, might
express itself as showing a potential host or driver someone's rating and reviews,
but not a name.  
If you're an Airbnb host, you can already see what this could look like in
practice. The researchers from the Harvard study released a plug­in for Google's
Chrome browser on Dec. 9 to accompany their research called "Debias Yourself."

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/racial­bias­airbnb_5669f05ae4b009377b246a28?utm_hp_ref=technology

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12/13/2015

To Combat Racial Bias By Airbnb Hosts, Try Blind Reservations

1. Here's Why Some People Are
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DEBIASYOURSELF.ORG

If an Airbnb host chooses to install Debias, the plug­in will automatically remove the
photo and name of guests making a request to stay at a property. According to the
FAQ, the plug­in also removes names and faces from other parts of Airbnb's site.
Whether people will choose to use it is another matter.
"For many hosts, discrimination is probably implicit ­­ in other words, they may not
even realize they are discriminating," Michael Luca, an assistant professor at
Harvard Business School who co­authored the research, told The Huffington Post.
"These hosts ­­ who don't want to discriminate ­­ would find the plugin to be a useful
decision aid. There's not much this tool will do for a host who is explicitly trying to
discriminate, since that host would simply choose not to use the plugin, but our
guess is that this is a much smaller segment of the market."
Only Airbnb may know for sure how big or small that proportion of users is. The
researchers told HuffPost that they think it would be productive for Airbnb to
consider integrating a version of the plug­in, as well as reducing discrimination
through other design choices. 

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3. How This Man Recovered From
Stage­4 Pancreatic Cancer

"We are committed to making Airbnb one of the most open, trusted, diverse,
transparent communities in the world," a company spokesperson told HuffPost in
response to the publication of the research.
"We recognize that bias and discrimination are significant challenges, and we
welcome the opportunity to work with anyone that can help us reduce potential
discrimination in the Airbnb community. We are in touch with the authors of this
study and we look forward to a continuing dialogue with them."
As platforms like LinkedIn, Uber and TaskRabbit take on increased importance in

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the on­demand economy, it's incumbent upon operators of these services to
address demonstrated bias. Otherwise, 21st century platforms for collaborative
consumption will just embed social biases from the cultures they exist within. 
http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/racial­bias­airbnb_5669f05ae4b009377b246a28?utm_hp_ref=technology

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12/13/2015

To Combat Racial Bias By Airbnb Hosts, Try Blind Reservations

This article has been updated to include a statement from Airbnb and an
2 days ago huffingtonpost.com The
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Pittman Taylor Pittman comic books
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explanation of the "Debias" plug­in.
Also on HuffPost:

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