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Airbnb will change process to fight discrimination in Oregon

AP – Airbnb hosts in Oregon will soon only see the initials of some prospective renters, not their full names, in a change designed to prevent discrimination against Black users of the online lodging marketplace.

The new policy stems from the settlement of a lawsuit that claimed hosts could reject customers because they could conclude that the prospective renters were Black based on their first names.

The change takes effect on January 31 and will last for at least two years.

It will only apply in Oregon – it won’t even cover people from other states trying to rent an Airbnb listing in Oregon, according to the company.

Civil rights representatives and the company said on Thursday that they see the policy as a research tool.

The Airbnb app icon is displayed on an iPad screen in Washington, DC. PHOTO: AP

“If Black users face fewer incidents of discrimination under this system where you’re obscuring first names, then it should be applied nationwide,” said Johnny Mathias, an official with Color of Change, which has worked with Airbnb to measure discrimination on the site.

Asked about expanding the initials-only policy, Airbnb spokeswoman Liz DeBold Fusco said, “We want to evaluate the impact of this change first… to understand if there are learnings from this work that can inform future efforts to fight bias.”

In 2017, three Black women in Oregon sued Airbnb, claiming that the company’s requirement that customers post full names and photos enabled hosts to discriminate based on race, in violation of the state’s public-accommodations law.

Airbnb changed its policy the following year so that hosts could only see a photo after they accepted a booking.

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