Future of Sharing: Improving Platforms, Policies & Partnerships to Fight Discrimination

Laura Murphy, the former head of the American Civil Liberties Union’s DC legislative office, recently conducted a 90-day review of discrimination on Airbnb (read the report here). Murphy says that she believes it’s in the enlightened self-interest of not only Airbnb, but all sharing economy companies, to make a sustained effort to serve entire communities, not just an elite market share. All companies, Murphy said, should be prepared for complaints of discrimination. “To have a company stick its head in the sand and say there’s not a problem out there is naive and also dangerous…You don’t know where discrimination is going to manifest itself, because it’s so much a part of our culture in the United States. Given that, you can’t just do one thing and expect it to solve discrimination for all time.”

Murphy said she was focusing her analysis and recommendations on three components: the Airbnb platform, the company’s policies, and its partnerships. Tweaks to the platform that Murphy and Airbnb employees are considering include using pictures later in the booking process and rewarding hosts who take anti-bias training. In the near future, according to Murphy, hosts and guests will have to sign that they’ve read and agreed to an anti-discrimination policy. Murphy is also encouraging greater diversity in Airbnb’s workforce, creating a specialized department within the company to deal with discrimination complaints, and fostering more partnerships with civil rights organizations. “There will be people with biases no matter what you do, and Airbnb should be in a position to encourage people to get over those biases,” says Murphy. “How do we stack the system so people can really learn about other cultures, and they can be more tolerant and accepting when they open their home to strangers?”