Airbnb revamps policies in response to vandalism

After a customer's home was vandalized by a guest, travel marketplace Airbnb makes a slew of changes to its policies to help guard against future incidents.

Travel marketplace Airbnb is making changes to its policies following a recent incident in which a member's apartment was ransacked by a guest.

Airbnb, which plays matchmaker between vacationers and home owners, is working to improve its recently tarnished image. Screenshot by CNET

The company plays matchmaker to people looking for a place to stay on vacation and those renting out their own homes or apartments. Airbnb has grown in popularity , but a recent vandalism and theft highlighted the pitfalls of using such a service.

A woman known only as "EJ" rented out her San Francisco apartment to a guest through Airbnb in June. After her guest left, EJ discovered that her home had been vandalized and that personal items had been stolen.

Though the victim contacted Airbnb to report the incident, she says the company was unresponsive and did little to help. Airbnb said it did reach out to EJ and also worked with San Francisco police, eventually leading to the arrest of a suspect .

Since late June, EJ's original blog on the incident went viral and eventually forced Airbnb to respond publicly to the incident.

Yesterday, Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky apologized to the victim and to Airbnb members for not handling the incident properly and announced policy changes to guard against future such incidents

In a blog post, Chesky said that starting August 15, the company will offer a $50,000 guarantee designed to protect the property of hosts from damage by Airbnb guests. The guarantee will be extended to EJ and other hosts who may have been victimized in the past, Chesky said.

The company is also setting up new support options, offering a 24-hour customer hotline starting next week, expanding its customer support team, hiring a director of customer support, and creating an in-house team to look into suspicious activity.

Airbnb has also updated its user profiles so that members can find more information about a potential host or guest, including reviews about that person from other members. Hosts will also now be able to set certain parameters for potential guests designed to weed out ones who haven't provided certain details.

Chesky noted that the company already offers certain safety measures, including a secure reservation system, verified photos, and fraud detection. But the recent incident was apparently a wake-up call.

"We've built this company by listening to our community," Chesky said in the blog. "Guided by your feedback, we have iterated to become safer and more secure. Our job's not done yet; we're still evolving. In the wake of these recent events, we've heard an uproar from people, both inside and outside our community. Know that we were closely listening."

About the author

Journalist, software trainer, and Web developer Lance Whitney writes columns and reviews for CNET, Computer Shopper, Microsoft TechNet, and other technology sites. His first book, "Windows 8 Five Minutes at a Time," was published by Wiley & Sons in November 2012.

 

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