For years, individuals with “Black-sounding” names have had to fight potential bias and racism when using apps that allow people they want to do business with to select their customers based on limited factors, including a person’s name. But now, at least one of those apps is fighting back with a new booking-procedure trial they hope can end potential racism for good.
David K. Li of NBC News reported that “Airbnb hosts in Oregon will soon be blocked from initially seeing the full names of guests, in an experiment aimed at curbing discrimination against Black travelers.”
According to Li, “For two years, starting on Jan. 31, vacation landlords in Oregon offering houses and apartments for rent via the popular travel website will be able to see only the first initials of prospective guests.”
The company said the full names of individuals booking a home or apartment would only show up to their prospective renter once the booking is fully confirmed.
In a statement, Airbnb spokeswoman Liz DeBold Fusco said that the booking-procedure trial is currently only being tested in Oregon but could be rolled out to other locations in the future.
“Given that the impact of this change is unknown, the implementation will be limited,” Fusco said.
Fusco added that Airbnb’s experimental booking process is also being driven, at least in part, by a 2019 lawsuit in which three Black individuals — Pat Harrington, Carlotta Franklin and Ebony Price — claimed the site was guilty of allowing rental owners to discriminate against them based purely on perceived race.
“This update is consistent with the voluntary settlement agreement we reached in 2019 with individuals in Oregon who raised concerns regarding the way guests’ names are displayed when they seek to book a listing,” Fusco said. “As part of our ongoing work, we will take any learnings from this process and use them to inform future efforts to fight bias.”
The issue is so rampant it’s even led to the creation of the popular hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack. Whether the change will be enough to help fight the issue of racism on the app remains to be seen, but advocates say making the booking process somewhat anonymous for renters does seem like a good first step.