All complex ecosystem have parasites… including Airbnb

Airbnb basement in Iceland
Looks like a dungeon right? Imagine sleeping down there for a night like I did in Iceland

…The trick is to not let them take over. Something Airbnb needs to think a lot more about!

I stumbled across a huge Airbnb scam that’s taking over London, this story is everywhere but it was Si Lumb who first sent me the link.

After reading the massive long piece I was quite shocked at how elaborate the scam was. I won’t spoil it but its bad then it gets worst still.

Here’s a few choice quotes…

On Airbnb, it turns out, scams aren’t just the preserve of lone chancers. As the short-term rental goldrush gathers pace, Airbnb empires are being rapidly scaled and monetised, with professional operators creating scores of fake accounts, fake listings and fake reviews to run rings around Airbnb, local law enforcement and the guests who place their trust in the platform. Reviews from guests paint a grim picture of people who have been tricked into staying in accommodation with blocked drains, broken fixtures and fittings, filthy floors, dirty bed linen – or, in some cases, accommodation that they simply did not book.

This very much reminds me of when I stayed in Iceland and the host moved me to the basement so he could get another Airbnb in! My experience of Airbnb in Tokyo was awful but at least the host wasn’t lying to my actual face.

All of these accounts are essentially one person, or at least one company. And yet they have all passed Airbnb’s account verification and safety processes, with most supplying government identification, selfies, email addresses and phone numbers. Two of these accounts, though, are more closely connected than the rest: Leon and Robert Lusso Management. And that’s because they both used to be called Christian.

Seen this many times on Airbnb, this is why I always look through the reviews of the hosts for patterns. Its the same way reviews on most sites you have to check for scams.

I noticed from my experience as a host (super host even), lots of guests don’t do the research. Don’t get me wrong, the scams are elaborate but few read the reviews and ask the right questions of the host.

According to Inside Airbnb, a service that scrapes Airbnb to shine a light on the platform’s impact on cities around the world, there are an estimated 36,964 listings on Airbnb in London that are listed by a host with at least one other listing. While Airbnb presents itself as a sharing economy company, the business of hosting is becoming increasingly systemised and professionalised, with critics arguing that businesses are able to make huge sums of money at the expense of local residents who are unable to access properties locked away by the short-term rental gold rush.

So what, if anything, can be done about it? To date, attempts to adequately regulate and police Airbnb listings have been spasmodic at best, leading to a patchwork of confusing, siloed approaches. In December 2019, more concerted regulation efforts were dealt a blow when the European Court of Justice ruled that Airbnb was an “information society service”, not a real estate agency. Such rulings mean that cities must continue to act alone – with mixed success.

Really interesting to look at inside Airbnb as a host in Manchester. But its clear councils can’t keep up with the Airbnb (gravy) train and the scammers know this too well. Could Airbnb do more stop this? Yes a bit but honestly…

All complex ecosystem have parasites. – Cory Doctorow

Author: Ianforrester

Senior firestarter at BBC R&D, emergent technology expert and serial social geek event organiser.