Hotel Lobbyists Push Forward Their Plan To Kill The Internet Because They Hate Competing Against Airbnb

from the come-on dept

In the midst of this “techlash” atmosphere, it seems that basically every industry whose business models have been upended by competition brought about by the internet is now cynically using the anger directed at successful internet companies as an opportunity to kneecap the wider internet. We’ve recently pointed out that many of the efforts to undermine Section 230 of the CDA (the law that makes much of the good parts of the internet possible) are actually being pushed by Hollywood out of frustration that they’re no longer able to maintain their monopoly rents in a gatekeeper business. Similarly, the big telcos have been using this opportunity to pull a “but look over there!” to point at the big internet companies, while trying to distract from the much greater privacy violations they regularly engage in.

Not to be left out, it appears the hotels are now making a major push to attack the internet, because they’re sick of competing against Airbnb. This is no surprise. Two years ago, we wrote how the hotel industry had mapped out a secret plan (which was leaked to the NY Times) to kneecap Airbnb through bogus litigation and getting friendly politicians to help them attack the company. Sometimes politicians were more obvious than others about helping the hotel industry out in this plan, like the time that (now disgraced) former NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman flat out admitted that he was attacking Airbnb to protect local hotels from competition.

As we noted a few weeks ago, a former top hotel exec, Ed Case, got elected to Congress last year. Case was actually on the board of the hotel industry’s main lobbying group, the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA). We wrote that he was planning to introduce a bill to undermine Section 230 at the behest of his former employers. On Monday of this week, he did exactly that with a press release that quotes the AHLA (leaving out that until just recently, Case was on the board of that organization (corruption? what corruption?)). The bill, H.R.4232 or the Protecting Local Authority and Neighborhoods Act (PLAN Act), would amend Section 230 to make it clear that it does not apply to Airbnb. Literally, that’s the entire point of the law.

Case’s explanation of the bill is hilariously misleading:

His ?Protecting Local Authority and Neighborhoods? (PLAN) Act would end abusive litigation by Internet-based short-term rental platforms like AirBnb, HomeAway, VRBO, Flipkey, and others attempting to avoid accountability for profiting from illegal rentals.

Note what he’s saying? It’s about “ending abusive litigation.” What?!? The “abusive litigation” is merely Airbnb asking courts to say that Section 230 means that they — as an internet platform — shouldn’t be liable for the postings of individuals users if those users violate local city and state laws (exactly what Section 230 was designed to do). Cities and states are free to pass whatever laws they want regarding short-term rentals. But they shouldn’t be able to pin liability on 3rd party platforms just because local officials don’t want to bother to enforce their own laws. But Case’s description of the law flips all of this on its head, and suggests that Airbnb’s attempt to have liability properly applied to those violating the law… is “abusive litigation.”

And, of course, he leaves out that courts right now appear to already believe that Section 230 doesn’t protect Airbnb in such situations (which I think is an obvious misreading of the law, but…).

The AHLA quote on this is even more ridiculous.

The national organization of the AHLA also released a statement in support. ?For too long, these Big Tech short-term rental platforms have been hiding behind this antiquated law in order to bully and threaten legal action against local elected officials who are simply trying to protect their residents from illegal rentals that are destroying neighborhoods and access to affordable housing,? said Chip Rogers, President and CEO of the national American Hotel & Lodging Association. ?These Big Tech rental platforms are invoking a loophole in a federal law to snub their noses at local government leaders across the country, while continuing to profit from illegal business transactions.?

Get that? It’s an “antiquated law” and they’re “invoking a loophole.” Neither is accurate. Section 230 is about the proper allocation of liability. You don’t blame the tool for what the user does with it — but that’s what many of these laws are designed to do.

Either way, the AHLA is going full-court press on this. And they’re not just focused on pushing this loophole for Airbnb. It appears they’re going all in on stripping Section 230 protections from any internet service hosting 3rd party content. As part of this, they recently released what can only be described as a push poll to mislead people about Airbnb, the laws around these issues, and Section 230. Each question in the poll is at best actively misleading and at worst, completely bullshit.

The poll was designed, not surprisingly, to get people to “vote” for the position the hotel industry wants. So the questions are phrased in a manner such that I’m almost surprised they didn’t get 100% of people supporting their campaign.

If Airbnb is making a profit from short-term rentals on its site, Airbnb should ensure the owner renting the property is following the local laws and safety requirements.

If you’re not familiar with the nuances here, you’re probably going to say you agree with that statement. But it leaves out what that means. How is Airbnb supposed to know whether or not the homeowners are following every local law that impacts them? If the homeowners are violating local laws, isn’t that up to local officials to enforce, and not Airbnb? Should DoorDash be required to police whether or not the restaurants that use it for delivery are complying with local health laws? Or, more directly, should AHLA hotels be required to police whether or not any of their customers do anything illegal inside their hotel rooms? Because that’s basically what AHLA is asking for here. If a drug deal or prostitution happens inside an AHLA hotel, should that hotel be held legally liable?

Airbnb should be required to remove rental listings from its website that are classified as illegal or banned by local government laws.

Again, that sounds good, but leaves out this: how the fuck does Airbnb know whether or not certain listings are “illegal”? Isn’t that, again, up to local officials to enforce? The AHLA ignores all of that and pretends that it’s somehow obvious which listings are legal and which are not. So, once again, should AHLA hotels be required to stop any activities in its members’ hotels that is “classified as illegal or banned by local government laws”? I’m sure the AHLA would say that’s impossible because they don’t know what’s happening in those rooms. Well, that’s the fucking point. Airbnb doesn’t know whether or not these listings do everything to comply with local laws. That’s on the people doing the listings and the local enforcement officials.

From there, there are a bunch of questions not targeting AIrbnb specifically, but the wider premise of CDA 230:

The Communications Decency Act should be amended to remove potential loopholes, that allow Internet companies to profit off illegal activity on their web sites.

Uh, yikes. Again, this assumes that it’s somehow obvious what is “illegal activity.” This “amendment” would basically kill the open internet. Because the risk of liability here would be huge. How could any company that allows 3rd party speech know whether any content violates any laws? That’s insane, and completely goes against the entire point of Section 230.

The Communications Decency Act should be amended to make it clear that web sites are accountable for removing illegal products or services.

Again, this assumes, incorrectly, that there’s some sort of obvious “illegal products or services.” These things don’t show up with a flag — just as someone checking into an AHLA member hotel to do a drug deal doesn’t wear a giant sign over their head announcing the same.

Honestly, the funniest thing about the push poll is that the question that got the least amount of support was the one that has nothing to do with the internet and Section 230, but rather is just a “hey, don’t you just hate Airbnb” type question — and that got the least support:

Short-term rentals are depleting housing options for local residents and increasing the cost to rent or own a home. Short-term rental sites should comply with local laws protecting housing for permanent residents.

People tend to like Airbnb. It provides a better service, often at a lower price. Hotels tend to offer pretty bad services at inflated prices. And again, this whole line of questioning completely misrepresents the point. If local officials want to undermine tourism and business travel in their regions — that’s their decision, no matter how short-sighted. But they shouldn’t be able to force a company into policing their laws just because local officials are too lazy to do so.

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Companies: ahla, airbnb

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Comments on “Hotel Lobbyists Push Forward Their Plan To Kill The Internet Because They Hate Competing Against Airbnb”

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Dale N. Chippendale says:

Re: ALL you advocate requires exemption / immunity from prior law.

[DON’T BLAME ME FOR PIECING THIS UP. It’s Masnick’s bizarre "system" which will only take part or all at random.]

Second: "internet" corporations are largely free to pillage content / leverage resources that others pay for. For instance, GOOGLE uses tremendous amounts of other people’s bandwidth that it doesn’t pay a cent for. — In order to scrape their content without paying a cent. — By which it lures advertising dollars away from those who paid for the draw!

Third: YES, teh internets is sort of good, BUT even its "inventor" is now alarmed:

Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web, has called for large technology firms to be regulated to prevent the web from being "weaponised at scale".

And so on.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: ALL you advocate requires exemption / immunity from prior la


And here I thought Google "paid" for scraping content by providing search results to said content. … and that people could set up flags ("robots.txt") to keep Google from doing so.

… not that scraping a public web site is illegal (qv: the recent article from the ninth circuit ).

… and not that Google fails to pay for their data usage (it’s easier when you own the datacenter, but then it’s interconnect fees you’re paying).

… and not that the whole thing about Google is really relevant to issues about CDA 230, hotel law, etc.

But hey. You keep being you. At least you’ve mostly gotten your capslock key unstuck.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: ALL you advocate requires exemption / immunity from prio

I’m just trying to imagine how poorly conceived a site has to be for Google to use "tremendous" amounts of bandwidth for each site with its scraper bot. it must be horrific.

Or, is he trying to argue a system where the people visiting a site now have to pay the site’s bandwidth as well as their own? That’s be popular…

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: ALL you advocate requires exemption / immunity from prior la

"For instance, GOOGLE uses tremendous amounts of other people’s bandwidth"

By scraping them? Methinks you don’t know what scraping is, which fits in line with your complete ignorance and/or misunderstand of what every tech does. Also, you always ignore the fact that Google respects the norobots.txt and will not scrape people who ask them not to. This isn’t hard.

"By which it lures advertising dollars away from those who paid for the draw!"

Google indexing sites to send people there when they return in the search results is taking traffic away from them now? What universe do you hail from?

"Tim Berners-Lee, inventor of the world wide web"

While his contribution is very much appreciated, the web as it exists now and the thing he built are very, very different things.

Dale N. Chippendale says:

Re: ALL you advocate requires exemption / immunity from prior law.

Now, I KNOW that you’re totally against fairness and in favor of the particular FEW corporate Royalty — which PAY you — and which you claim are embettering all our lives — actually taking control of — so you’re out again with one of your standard rants. That’s all.

I just take comfort in the fact that your notions are slowly losing. You can’t even hold on to fanboys! Always just a couple dozen, and many of those are astro-turfing!

Everyone reasonable sees the dangers.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: ALL you advocate requires exemption / immunity from prior la

I agree 100 to top chip.
And those hotel guys should have known that mad crazy football after party that lead to the linebacker throwing the tv onto someones car is just as guilty for what he did and I demand restitution for The gravity of such a situation. Almost like they ran a site without no moderation and have no shield.


Anonymous Coward says:

Re: ALL you advocate requires exemption / immunity from prior la

CDA 230 is a law that says third parties should not be held liable for other peoples actions. It has prevented the Internet being litigated out of existence in the US. Without it, only corporations will be able to use the Internet for their own purposes. That will remove the means many people use for bettering their situation by being able to sell their own works, be that intellectual or real property.

For someone who complains about corporate power, why are you supporting a change to the law that will only increase corporate power over the individual? Do you really want the world that fascists dream of, one where individuals are cogs in the machines that make corporations rich.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

Most people (in the US) are subscribers to the notion of "out of sight out of mind." As such they will happily go after the people who make things possible because if they didn’t make it possible, they believe that there would be no abuse.

Is it an extremely childish view of the world? Absolutely. That’s the US for you. Don’t believe me? Go look at their president or his opposition’s views on guns. It’s not just one group, it’s all of them.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re:

In many (albeit not all) jurisdictions (including most US states), the onus is on the prosecution to show that you intended to use said lockpicks to commit an illegal act. In fact, best I can tell, in Mississippi, open carriage of dual-use tools (like lockpicks or crowbars) actually weighs against what normally would be a prima facie finding of illegal intent.

Furthermore, even in most of the jurisdictions where such a prima facie finding exists, it is rebuttable, and relatively easy to rebut to some degree by packing an inexpensive padlock with your picks (most folks who own lockpicks will have a few locks of their own, often inexpensive padlocks of various types, that they use as training/practice locks).

Filed under: This post is void in Japan, where locks are barely a thing to begin with…or you could be in Pennsylvania, where there is no statute covering the possession of lockpicks to begin with.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

I can understand why someone would be enthusiastic about such things. I don’t understand why someone would need to "open carry" lock picks in the manner described. You might be enthusiastic about cooking, but if you feel the need to "open carry" a meat cleaver, you wouldn’t be surprised if you get asked questions.

Anonymous Coward says:

should AHLA hotels be required to police whether or not any of their customers do anything illegal inside their hotel rooms? Because that’s basically what AHLA is asking for here.

That seems at least a little different, because the hotels do not advertise illegal events occurring in hotel rooms or handle the money associated with them.

Of course, AirBNB is not actuallly operating within (almost all of) the jurisdictions people post ads about. By itself that should be enough to avoid liability under local laws. Talking about a city on the internet doesn’t make me subject to their laws.

Anonymous Coward says:

This is just another Craigslist. Instead of whining and complaining, the cities should be using the tools of Airbnb et al to look up offerings in their city and police them.

Everywhere else, cops and the state are all about letting crime go until they can profit off of it. Why not do the same sort of enforcement in this case, or, you know, actual regular enforcement. Eventually they will end up with an entire second economy underground, decentralized, "grey" and black markets. Someone please stop this desk from hitting my head.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:

Not relevant when deciding who should police laws and regulations. Platforms do not have the authority or the tools to do that job, and those pushing for them to do that, like the AHLA are trying to kneecap a competitor. It is different if you own or lease property in a town, and have to get relevant permissions for your business.

Does the AHLA check that all its members comply with all local laws and regulations, or do they take their word for it?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

Not relevant when deciding who should police laws and regulations.

That’s just, like, your opinion, man.

The CDA says AirBNB can’t be treated as "the speaker" of things posted by other users. It doesn’t say they can’t be treated as the money-transmitter (although a Citizens United argument could be interesting here). Therefore, this being interstate commerce, other federal laws may apply, and we have to look at what they say—including who is responsible for policing things.

(Doesn’t mean those laws make sense, just that people can’t necessarily CDA-230 their way out of it.)

Bill Hicks says:

Boo hoo

Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb have loaded down congressional offices with their staffers, literally having their corporate people craft legislation to be passed in favor of these supposed “disruptors”. In the end all they’re doing is rigging laws to create unfair competition in existing industries . The fact that the hotel industry is doing the same and you don’t like it? Boo-fucking-hoo.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Boo hoo

Uber, Lyft, and Airbnb have loaded down congressional offices with their staffers

This bit of criticism might have been legit if not for the fact that "disruptors" are regularly criticized for having to rely on angel investors or simply flat out have no money to speak of in order to challenge the established status quo.

And now suddenly they have enough funds to get a majority in government? Give me a break.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re:

"What kind of ding dong thinks that you could actually "break" or "kill" the internet"

People who know how it actually works and are referring to the internet as it stands today, not the actual underpinnings. The "internet" as in the basic systems that have been in place since before the mainstream started using them might not be in danger, but the stuff that underpins everybody’s daily use of it certainly is.

"Google might be more inclined to pay you a living wage"

What’s fun is working out your projection. Based on zero evidence, you keep claiming this, which leads me to believe that someone’s paying you to act like you do here. But, who pays for such poor output for so long? It’s fun to try and guess.

Roy Rogers says:

Air BnB just needs to add a disclaimer and a clause stating the lister is responsible for ensuring it is legal to rent and that it complies with all local laws.

Hotels are not competing with air BnB, if they were, they would be regulated the same way. Hotels are competing with everyone who has a room to let.

Air BnB is competing with classified ads.

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