Tech lobby group files brief against NY's Airbnb subpoena

A trade organization that represents major tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Amazon steps up to support Airbnb in its tussle with New York authorities. The AG's office responds.

Donna Tam Staff Writer / News
Donna Tam covers Amazon and other fun stuff for CNET News. She is a San Francisco native who enjoys feasting, merrymaking, checking her Gmail and reading her Kindle.
Donna Tam
2 min read

A lobbying group for tech's most powerful companies is voicing its support for Airbnb, as the company faces a subpoena from the New York Attorney General's office.

The Internet Association filed an amicus brief Friday that argues the Attorney General is acting out of his scope of power by filing a subpoena to collect data from the peer-to-peer home rental company. Airbnb, which lets hosts rent out their homes through its site, is a member of the association, along with tech giants like Google, Facebook, and Amazon.

The AG's office, which filed a response Friday to Airbnb's motion to stop the subpoena, said it is simply trying to track down those who are using Airbnb to break the law. The office also issued a statement saying Airbnb's public comments are misleading.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman filed the subpoena against Airbnb earlier this month, asking for data on thousands of Airbnb hosts in New York.

The Internet Association said its brief argues that the AG does not provide an adequate explanation of why it needs the information and if Airbnb complies, "it would set a dangerous and harmful precedent...It would have enormous implications for the Internet."

Amicus briefs are statements from parties that are not officially involved with the case. The court can decide whether or not to accept them, but they are often used in the public discussion of a case.

"(The brief) points out that although law enforcement authorities need to be able to investigate bad actors, government officials should not be using a meat cleaver where a scalpel is available -- especially in a way that unduly imposes unreasonable burdens on law-abiding citizens," according to the association's post.

The discussion around Airbnb, and the sharing economy in general, continues to be a heated one as companies like Airbnb and Uber bump up against government regulations and traditional industries. Michael Beckerman, CEO of the Internet Association, said New York's actions against Airbnb "will have a chilling effect" on other startups in the space. Like Airbnb, other sharing economy startups rely heavily on user-driven transactions, so the state government casting a net over user data is not good for business.

Beckerman said the AG's actions will cause startups to question whether or not they want to operate in New York.

"I think it's an important question for local governments everywhere, and it's an important question for New York," he told CNET. "Do they want to be an example for the future of the economy, and do they want to be a place where startups come to grow...or are they going to say, 'No, we have a 1970s mentality and we're going to bring back the buggy whip'?"

Update, 3:58 p.m. PT: Added comment from the New York AG's office.