Airbnb Launches Oregon-Only Policy Change Following Lawsuit

For the next two years in Oregon – beginning Jan. 31 – Airbnb hosts will only see guest initials before confirming a booking. This is the result of a settlement Airbnb reached in 2019 with three Oregon women who said that hosts used names and photos to discriminate against Black users.  

A study by researchers at the Harvard Business School demonstrated that guests with distinctly Black names were 16% less likely to receive a positive response to an inquiry compared to identical guests with distinctly white names. This held true when guests shared the unit, when the landlord lived elsewhere, and when the landlord was white, Black, male, or female. The researchers – Benjamin Edelman, Michael Luca, and Dan Svirsky – say their research suggests that “Airbnb’s current design choices facilitate discrimination.” 

Airbnb told The Washington Post that it uses the billing zip codes and IP addresses to determine where a booking is generated; Oregonians renting outside Oregon would display initials only, but a non-Oregonian renting in Oregon would not.  

Regarding wider use, an Airbnb spokesperson told The Washington Post, “Given that the impact of this change is unknown, the implementation will be limited.” 

Brian Mackerer, Airbnb host in Oregon and Utah, says reviews of guest behavior are far more relevant than names or personal photos. “If it’s initials, that’s okay; I’m still going to default to past reviews.”    

Of the change, Mackerer said, “I don’t think it’s going to have that big of an impact, to be honest. But I think it can’t hurt.” 

By Grace Miller