Why is airbnb only just waking up to this?

being told off by airbnb

Although what happened over the weekend in New York was awful, I find Airbnb’s response too slow and too late.

CEO Brian Chesky announced on Wednesday at The New York Times DealBook Conference four changes the company will be implementing. The changes were also announced in an email to employees Wednesday.

Here are the four key changes:

1. All listings will be verified by the end of 2020 by a combination of the company and guests. Chesky said that he wants to “make sure we can stand behind every single listing and host,” for photo accuracy, the correct address, and safety.

2. Airbnb will now have a guest guarantee in the scenario that guests arrive at a listing and the listing does not match photos and descriptions.

3. A 24/7 hotline with real people will be available to address issues that come up.

4. Airbnb will review what it calls “high-risk” listings.

Its like they only just woke up to the fact people are doing very bad things with their platform. I mean why does it take loss of life for them to finally wake up?

You should disclose smart speakers to guests

Someone at Mydata mentioned this interview during our panel last month and finally had a read. Very happy BBC got the Google’s Rick Osterloh to say “I disclose smart speakers to guests.

After being challenged as to whether homeowners should tell guests smart devices – such as a Google Nest speaker or Amazon Echo display – are in use before they enter the building, he concludes that the answer is indeed yes.

“Gosh, I haven’t thought about this before in quite this way,” Rick Osterloh begins.

“It’s quite important for all these technologies to think about all users… we have to consider all stakeholders that might be in proximity.”

And then he commits.

“Does the owner of a home need to disclose to a guest? I would and do when someone enters into my home, and it’s probably something that the products themselves should try to indicate.”

I very much agree and I think everybody should do this. Will people do this? Not a chance, although I wish they would. I do tend to go into a room and jokily say the different wake words. Just incase…

I remember writing about my Airbnb in Barcelona experience and I have to say Airbnb’s criteria of what a camera is good.

This area of social data surveillance is tricky but something which is being researched/explored by the likes of myself at BBCR&D.

Familiar stranger and wellness

milgram familiar stranger

Theres been so many times in the past when I blogged about the breakdown of social bonds between strangers. One of my favourite books is Sherry Turkle’s Alone Together, I still need to read reclaiming conversations. The smartphone is a easy target to point at when thinking about this all.

The thing I hadn’t really considered is the effect of the mental ill/wellness epidemic maybe slightly caused by loneliness.

This is why I find things like Uber quiet ride pretty scary when you take the long view. Which of course Uber isn’t, as they try and make public transport redundant as its not convenient enough for our lives.

You can outsource pretty much every aspect of irritation in your lives. But you can’t outsource loneliness, or pain. Like a dystopian sci-fi plotline, we are allowing Silicon Valley to make our lives as convenient and seamless as possible.

But there’s an app for everything now, which means no more phone calls to the pizza shop, no chit-chat while waiting for the bus. The little white earbuds, and their more aggressive, noise-cancelling cousins, are shielding us from this terrible outside world.

And we are lonelier than ever. Our communities are disintegrating, whether it’s the corner store bought by a billionaire developer or churches being replaced by Instagram or the fact that I have never met or even seen my nextdoor neighbour. We are at a crisis point.

You could easily point the finger at Airbnb too, something which was about people sharing homes with strangers; now is about hotel like experiences. Airbnb haven’t helped things wither with their plus listings. Don’t get me wrong I understand, but airbnb originally was different.

I keep saying it but noticed I don’t think I have ever wrote about it so directly.

Public transport along with lots public services could be the decider between a epidemic of loneliness. I mean where else are you going to experience familiar stranger and that essential head nod. Rubbing shoulders with strangers clearly is good thing in the long run, you wonder why more people are flocking to our over crowded cities? I think there is something in the social object theory and I’m not the only one. Bonding with strangers builds friendships, builds neighbourhoods, building communities, which builds societies?

The data is still not 100% but I think this is essential research material.

Manufacturing algorithmic good behaviour?

Taxi sign

I read that Uber is now going to start punishing users with low scores by cutting them off.

Uber is now requiring the same good behavior from riders that it has long expected from its drivers. Uber riders have always had ratings, but they were never really at risk of deactivation — until now. Starting today, riders in the U.S. and Canada are now at risk of deactivation if their rating falls significantly below a city’s average.

“Respect is a two-way street, and so is accountability,” Uber Head of Safety Brand and Initiatives Kate Parker wrote in a blog post. “Drivers have long been required to meet a minimum rating threshold which can vary city to city. While we expect only a small number of riders to ultimately be impacted by ratings-based deactivations, it’s the right thing to do.”

For drivers, they face a risk of deactivation if they fall below 4.6, according to leaked documents from 2015. Though, average ratings are city-specific. Uber, however, is not disclosing the average rider rating, but says “any rider at risk of losing access will receive several notifications and opportunities to improve his or her rating,” an Uber spokesperson told TechCrunch.

This is another example of the insanity of  algorithmic telling off and the secrecy is stupid.

Airbnb telling off
Airbnb telling off for my 4.8 rating

Airbnb is still telling me off/trying to help with my score of 4.8/5 with 34 Total reviews and 76% 5 star reviews.

Mainly because I don’t accept most people into my flat. There’s no understanding about timing, workload, etc. In the algorithms view, everyone should be maximizing the amount of people using the flat. They keep trying to push auto-booking on me. I expect it will become a requirement one day and I’ll leave Airbnb as its completely unsuitable for me.

The whole idea of perfection is flawed and humans are never perfect. Sure Douglas Rushkoff has lots to say about this in #Teamhuman.

Update June 2nd

Talking of Uber, there was interesting piece in the Guardian around the same time, which could apply to Airbnb too. What is Uber? Forget the sharing economy – it’s just a libertarian scam.

 

Airbnb Has a Hidden-Camera Problem – You telling me?

Airbnb monitoring warning
You would never guess it was a listening device from the picture

I was reading a piece in the Atlantic about Airbnb and the camera problem.

Of course this has super relevance to me after my experience of a Airbnb in Barcelona last year.

Airbnb’s rules allow cameras outdoors and in living rooms and common areas, but never in bathrooms or anywhere guests plan to sleep, including rooms with foldout beds. Starting in early 2018, Airbnb added another layer of disclosure: If hosts indicate they have cameras anywhere on their property, guests receive a pop-up informing them where the cameras are located and where they are aimed. To book the property, the guests must click “agree,” indicating that they’re aware of the cameras and consent to being filmed.

I do find it really interesting because Airbnb class listening devices such as Amazon Alexa as cameras too. I did think this would be very difficult to police. The transparency is welcomed, as before you had to search pictures for anything which looked suspicious.

In January, Bigham discovered cameras in his rental that he says were never disclosed. After he reached out to the Trust & Safety team, representatives told him he and his family had in fact consented to the cameras because they were visibly displayed in photos on the listing. After Bigham’s blog post on the ordeal went viral, Airbnb apologized and refunded his money.

But Bigham says customer-service representatives for Airbnb twice sided against him before reversing their original decision, and only after his blog post was widely shared online.

“No one really seems to know what they’re doing,” Bigham said in an email. “And it seems like it’s only going to get worse.”

In a statement, Airbnb said: “We have apologized to Mr. Bigham and fully refunded him for his stay. We require hosts to clearly disclose any security cameras in writing on their listings and we have strict standards governing surveillance devices in listings. This host has been removed from our community.”

As usual the public stink causes Airbnb to actually do something. I wonder how many complaints get shoved under the carpet?

Airbnb illegal audio monitoring?

Airbnb monitoring warning

Me and my partner decided on Airbnb for our trip to Barcelona. We found one  and booked it. Generally the flat was ok,

However there was a warning on the kitchen door, stating they are listening for noise 24 hours a day and will cancel bookings if there is loud noise. Looking around I think the device is this thing…?

Airbnb monitoring warning

It certainly put a terrible taste in our mouth and made us feel uncomfortable. Although we didn’t complain straight away and by the time we thought about it, the internet connection was down and if its really connected and not a poor joke; it was no longer going to work. Didn’t cause the host(s) to come and find out what was wrong, even with us complaining about the lack of internet (I debugged it as much as I could, but ultimately we had European roaming data and wasn’t in the flat that much)

This has to be a breach of privacy and I’ve finally complained to Airbnb. Especially after rethinking and re-reading things like this.

Update – Thursday 13th Sept

Since my tweets/toots and this blog post. I had quite a lot of people and journalists get in touch… But I still have seen nothing from Airbnb or the host. So I decided to take one of the journalists up on their offer in a form of social justice. No idea how what I wrote will come across or be edited but as I was seeking out the legal ramifications of what the host had done, I saw this on the Airbnb help site…

Rules for hosts
If you’re a host and you have any type of surveillance device in or around a listing, even if it’s not turned on or hooked up, we require that you indicate its presence in your House Rules. We also require you to disclose if an active recording is taking place. If a host discloses the device after booking, Airbnb will allow the guest to cancel the reservation and receive a refund. Host cancellation penalties may apply.

With that I rewrote to Airbnb and Airbnbhelp to demand a refund on top of everything else I previously complained about.

Sure to update everyone once I hear something….

Update – Friday 15th Sept

I was contacted by Airbnb by phone, the woman ran through a few questions and we talked about what happened again. She agreed this was clearly a breach of the Airbnb terms and could see the listening device and the warning in a few of the photos (as like me, knew what to look for). She said they would block/ban that listing which they have done. They also issued a refund to me and my partner, which is great news as our un-comfortableness certainly had a slight affect on the holiday in Barcelona.

Personally I’m glad I found the Airbnb term above, as that drove things along much quicker. Previous to that, it seemed not a lot was being done?

In our conversation, it was worth noting an Alexa, Google Home, Baby monitors, etc would count as listening devices which must be declared upfront before the guest books.

From Airbnb…

To summarize, we will follow up and investigate the host’s account following your report of a surveillance device in the listing. We take these reports very seriously, once again, thank you for bringing this issue to our attention. Your participation helps keep Airbnb a safe and trusted community.

Its time to regulate Airbnb…

No Tourists allowed - thanks for your collaboration

There has been a lot said about Airbnb in the media and to be fair I have talked about it myself a few times. But I keep on reading them anyway. Then I read the comment is free piece in the Guardian, right before I go to Barcelona too.

Barcelona is a city-break destination practically all year round, which means it’s struggling with more than just a surfeit of drunken stag parties and queues outside tapas bars. Landlords have realised they can make more money out of short lets to well-off Airbnb users than from renting to conventional tenants who live and work in the city year round, so when contracts come up for renewal it’s not uncommon to find the rent suddenly shooting up to levels that young Spaniards can’t pay. Once they’re forced out of the neighbourhood, the empty flat promptly disappears into what’s still sometimes euphemistically known as the “sharing economy”, although what happens next sounds like the antithesis of sharing. Those lucky enough to own a desirable property get steadily luckier, by pimping it out to the highest bidders. Meanwhile, those who don’t have such an asset become ever less likely to get one, as property prices are pushed up across the city. Thus does inequality harden, and resentment deepen, while the failure of mainstream parties to solve the problem drives the young and frustrated ever closer to the political fringes.

All the stuff mentioned in others but then, but then the killer to my hippyish ideas for Airbnb.

So much for the earnestly hippyish vibe of the original Airbnb model, which was supposed to be all about creating a cosy-sounding “global community” by linking up adventurous strangers in search of more authentic, home-from-home travel experiences. And so much, too, for the idea of democratising the travel industry by letting the little guy make a buck on the side. In some tourist hotspots Airbnb is now morphing from an amateur operation into a slick professional one, with landlords amassing multiple properties just as they once did with buy-to-let, and using agencies to manage their burgeoning empires.

The romantic, if sometimes risky, fantasy of swapping lives with a local for a few nights and seeing the city through their eyes is being replaced with a more corporate, impersonal experience. Sign here for the keys; check out promptly in time for the next guest to arrive. Too bad that what could have been a young couple’s starter flat is now just another asset to be sweated, and one that probably stands empty half the time.

As the piece says and I am somewhat in agreement about regulation in this sense, as things have gotten out of hand. But the pressure needs to come from both sides and I don’t know if people care to do the right thing? For example there are still a lot of listings on Airbnb for Barcelona which don’t have the LUT number which is required for Barcolona Airbnbs now.

it’s uncomfortable knowing that your cheap getaway comes at such a hidden cost, guilt seems unlikely to put many travellers off

It would make sense if Airbnb would check this somehow or even more fundamentally, provide a space to input this info and highlight it to potential Airbnb guests. Right now you have to tack it on the end of the description which isn’t ideal.

When looking for somewhere, I asked a few Airbnb hosts for their LUT number and one all but laughed in the message back. If Airbnb really gave a crap about whats happening to these cities and locations its the least they would do.

Airbnb what can I say…?

Airbnb business model

I’ve had my ups and downs with Airbnb, being a host and being a guest. Recently my flat made the decision to block/ban people renting out their who flat for Airbnb. Mainly for reasons in this post, profiteers make a killing on Airbnb – and erode communities. The destruction when some guests have gone off is pretty bad. Then the committee (who I’m a member) found there is a clause in which many are not aware of

Borrowers who are granted permission could be charged higher interest or additional fees.

Those who go behind lenders’ backs and list their property on Airbnb regardless would be in breach of their contract and the lender could ask them to repay the mortgage immediately.

The important thing to remember is there is are different types of hosts. For example I only put my spare room on Airbnb not my whole flat. I trust people but there is no way I would give them the keys to my home without me being there at the same time! I remember going to a airbnb meetup in Manchester and being shocked at the difference between those like me who do it for a bit of extra cash and those who treat it like a business.

On the business side theres many stories including this one Airbnb: ‘It’s a cash machine. It’s magical. You are paid to go on holiday.’ These stories do worry me and do make me cross my arms. But on the guest side its been really great to fly around europe and stop at Airbnb’s for sometimes 3x less than the hotels near by. I’ve benefited greatly being able to do this but am very aware of the racial discrimination of the sharing economy. I’m fortunate to being a host and being able to verified about 9 different things including my government ID and full address. Being on the service early on means my rep is pretty good even being awarded superhost a few years ago.

I’ve met some great people doing Airbnb too, even met my favourite Airbnb guest in Portugal in March for a short while, 2.5 years after I hosted her. I bet those host their spare house have no idea who is there or really care?

Starting now would be difficult as I’ve found out from friends who try it, but its clear cities and countries are coming down on Airbnb for ruining communities as mentioned before, Airbnb wrecks travellers’ holiday plans as battle with cities intensifies. You thought it was just Uber right? Nope the whole silicon valley business model is tearing up communities and existing businesses. Neo-liberalism at its best or worst depending how you look at things.

But at the heart of it do Airbnb give a rats? As I found when I went to Japan (listing no longer exists) and Iceland, no they really dont. The problem is its a neat system, just run by a silicon valley company which is aiming to put everybody else out of business then yank the price cord up once they got us. Imagine if Airbnb was run by a public service company, non-profit or coop?

I do think we need to separate the hosting situations. I’m a host but I’m nothing like those who host their 4th bought house, screaming blue murder that they are not superhost entitled and out to make a killing. If I was as greedy, I certainly would drop the price (I charge £45 per night) and rise the price massive on concerts days (A woman came to the taylor swift concern for £45/night, hotels and other airbnb’s were charging £150+ a night). There is clearly a difference and its important to remember this.

Our listening project conversation in full

Ian and Kate

Remember ages ago when a slice of me and Kate’s conversation for the listening project ended up on BBC Radio Manchester and BBC Radio 4? There was much more to the whole conversation and you can understand how I ended up ruff camping on a Irish cliff face in a camper van.

Holiday with Kate in Ireland

It will be forever in the National Archives for generations to hear.

Conversation between friends, Kate and Ian, about the benefits of travelling and the differences in what they want from a holiday.

The Listening Project conversations collectively form a picture of our lives and relationships today. Recordings were made by BBC producers of people sharing an intimate conversation, lasting up to an hour and on a topic of the speakers’ choice.

Kate and Ian have been friends since 2007. They met when Ian moved to Manchester from London. They talk about the benefits of travelling and the differences in what they want from a holiday – Ian likes the big city buzz whereas Kate prefers the quiet of the countryside. They discuss Airbnb, a home rental website that Ian uses to rent out his home. They also talk about the differences and similarities in their personalities.

China goes for a nosedive?

On reading about China’s social credit score… My mind instantly thought about Black Mirrors S3 ep1 Nose Dive.

social credit is an attempt at a softer, more invisible authoritarianism. The goal is to nudge people toward behaviors ranging from energy conservation to obedience to the Party

Zhima credit, well I guess at least its more transparent than the scores mainly hidden by the likes of Uber, Airbnb, Facebook, etc. Although most are being more open about the scores now.

 

Airbnb: What should be declared upfront and is simply illegal

https://twitter.com/textfiles/status/935305053258125312

Shocking tweet about a Airbnb host which setup a IP camera in the visitor bedroom. It very much reminds me of the camera in Simple which was ultimately the downfall of the Manchester restaurant.

The whole thing is just wrong but to make things worst is Airbnb’s customer service (they call it customer experience) which seems to want to keep it all under-wraps. This is surely a criminal offence and suspended isn’t nearly enough!

Of course this isn’t the only case, heres another one.

Shocking stuff! Of course my Airbnb has no cameras, no listening devices and I don’t even have a Philips Hue light in the spare room. I was going to install the Google Home mini for the purpose of controlling the lights but decided it wasn’t going to work, as it refuses to stay local.

It does raise the question of what should be declared upfront on the site before the guest books.

Airbnb’s algorithmic telling off

being told off by airbnb

Its kind of weird being told off by Airbnb.

I’ve always been pretty good with Airbnb but recently I had a volleyball derby match which went on way past its set time due to a thrilling end after 5 sets. Plus it was the last match of the year. This meant turning up late, although I did warn this might happen.

Then I had to cancel for the first time on guest who was due to be arrive at 0130am. I did say originally I couldn’t do it but decided since I wasn’t going to Sheffield Docfest anymore it would be possible. So I accepted the request to find out a week later, I would be going to Edinburgh for the DIS 2017 conference.

So I had to cancel for the first time in 2+ years… but it didn’t take long for Airbnb’s algorithm to kick in and tell me what a bad person I am and how my account will be suspended!

Anything but perfection is unacceptable according to Airbnb it seems?

Airbnb hosting standards

Of course it doesn’t really matter too much to me, as I don’t care so much about being a superhost but what I don’t like is being told off by Airbnb for canceling on a guest who to be fair was asking a lot at the start and for the 1st time since I started hosting over 2 years ago.

I wonder what a decentralised airbnb would look like with a federated trust system?

Rating people, reciprocity and more…

Black MIrror s3ep1

I also like Doc Searls have a problem with rating people.

I’ve hated rating people ever since I first encountered the practice. That was where everybody else does too: in school.

After all, rating people is what schools do, with tests and teachers’ evaluations. They do it because they need to sort students into castes. What’s school without a bell curve?

As John Taylor Gatto put it in the Seven Lesson Schoolteacher, the job of the educator in our industrialized education system is to teach these things, regardless of curricular aspirations or outcomes:

  1. confusion
  2. class position
  3. indifference
  4. emotional dependency
  5. intellectual dependency
  6. provisional self-esteem
  7. that you can’t hide

It’s no different in machine-run “social sharing” systems such as we get from Uber, Lyft and Airbnb. In all those systems we are asked to rate the people who share their cars and homes, and they are asked to rate us. The hidden agenda behind this practice is the same as the one Gatto describes above.

I use Uber now and then especilaly when outside of Manchester for work. I also have used Airbnb and of course host on Airbnb. I’m under no illusion how the rating system influences peoples opnions and behaviour too. Its meant to weed out bad behaviour but always seems to cause unintended consequences. I’m sure the people behind the scence have good intentions but fail to think about the law of unintended consequences.

To be clear I don’t have a problem with rating a piece of media or something non-human, for example I rate most of the media I watch. But rating a person feels a little hostile/weird. As the Black Mirror episode nosedive (s3ep1) clearly demostrates to great effect.

Recently I have been in a few Uber’s for other people (not sharing the fee) and its been interesting to see how people have rated each other. More interestingly is the social contract/mulipulation which spring into action. It starts with the driver stopping the journey and saying “I’m going to rate you 5 stars.” My friend then turns around and says they will do the same, and does. This is classic Law of Reciprocity as described in Influence.

As I tend to think about these things too much, I also find the loop holes in the system equally interesting.

On my holiday to Iceland, the host(s) moved me to another room and I went along with it because I was fed some line about helping them out. But actually there was something dodgy going on, as I met the Airbnb which was moving into my room I had booked.

I was peed off but not quite enough to want seek a refund, I wanted other people to be aware of this and my review explained exactly what happened.  Also brought this up with the hosts the day of this happening and private messaged them through Airbnb. My rating was fair I felt because it was unfair to lie to me about their motives, especially when I’d be very open with them. No rating system could really capture this.

The system is your review goes live once the other person also writes a review. Part of the review is rating out of 5 stars which is the bit which bugs me, because boiling down everything to 5 starts seems too simple.

Generally I only rub sholders with this stuff every once in a while. For example my Uber rating is 4.92 out 5 (partly because I don’t use Uber that much and treat the drivers like people not drivers, I talk to all the taxi drivers regardless). I’m also a superhost on Airbnb because I don’t take a lot of people and very careful who I host at my own place.

Due to these ratings I get a skewed view on each of these system. On uber I only get uber drivers which are rated 4.5 upwards (I hadn’t noticed till one of the drivers pointed it out to me a while ago). With Airbnb I have the luxury of being stricter with who I accept, partly because I don’t need to have guests all the time. However as a guest myself, things are different. Here are my 3 guest experiences

  1. (Japan) was so bad I stayed for 30mins and complained to Airbnb, getting my money back after a long back and forth with Airbnb & the host in question.
  2. (Portugal) was perfect
  3. (Iceland) was good till the end when the host lied and “double booked” the room (see the review here).

But this is about rating people…

Ratings are misleading and a horrible way to understand human complexity. They can be gamed and easily used to spread inequality. We play along unaware how we all contribute to this all.

Seeking the Aurora in Iceland

Northern Lights (Aurora)

I have always wanted to see the Northern Lights / Aurora Borealis and finally there is a very good chance this might finally happen. Flights and Airbnb is booked for this yearly quarter and of course I’ll be happy to catch up with Brian too, especially since he nicely sent me the Iceland Aurora DVD.

I’ll be staying in Reykjavík, so if you think theres something I should be doing besides visiting the golden circlerelaxing in hot spas and of course seeing the northern lights. Do add a comment or tweet me.

Northern Lights

Can’t wait! Even got my winter trainers today, perfect timing…!

Airbnb is weird because people are weird?

Stay wild stylised

Reading the guardian’s recent piece about Airbnb, I was taken by this paragraph.

No matter how glossy and cool the Airbnb advertising is, with all the shiny shots of people staying in Airstreams in Texas backyards or converted air-conditioned food trucks in New Orleans, staying in an Airbnb is weird because people are weird, and their lives are complicated, their routines idiosyncratic and their bookshelves are windows into their souls. Conversations are curious, and awkward silences are things to be negotiated. You cannot be on automatic pilot at an Airbnb because strange things happen in other people’s homes, on their patch, across their kitchen tables.

As I have written about previously, I have had my ups and downs with Airbnb. Mainly ups but also some weird experiences too, including 2 experiences with cheese in my fridge.

Its certainly makes for a interesting life.