The Media Demanded That Airbnb Do More Background Checks; Now It’s Upset That Airbnb Is Banning People With Criminal Records

from the so-which-is-it dept

A story made the rounds recently about how Airbnb effectively banned Bethany Hallam for life. Hallam, an Allegheny County, Pennsylvania councilperson received a notification from Airbnb that a third party it used for background checks had noted a “criminal records match” in doing a background check, and she would not be able to use Airbnb to either rent or host.

As the story went viral, Airbnb went into defensive mode, and a couple days later lifted the ban. Hallam, rightly, highlights that she wonders about the millions of others with criminal records who may face similar lifetime bans for similarly ridiculous reasons. And, she’s not wrong.

Just a few months ago, a DC rapper named Young E Class made the same point, noting that he had paid his debt to society after spending 13 years in prison, and he didn’t think it was right that he was barred from ever staying in an Airbnb.

There are plenty of other, similar, stories if you look around. Four years ago, Marlon Peterson wrote a piece for USA Today bemoaning that Airbnb banned him for life, and wouldn’t allow him to stay in an Airbnb after chaperoning a group of children during the March for Our Lives event in Washington DC. Peterson noted that he had been convicted of attempted robbery and assault 16 years ago as a teenager, but had served his time, and had since dedicated his life to various programs to help end gun violence and youth crime. But he still can’t rent at an Airbnb.

Of course, what’s left out of these stories is the fact that the media itself helped push Airbnb to implement such a policy.

It’s not hard to find local news orgs with stories of sex offenders renting via Airbnb. More commonly are a bunch of stories about Airbnb hosts with criminal records. And there are numerous articles warning of criminals using the service or criminal behavior happening at Airbnbs.

In other words, for years, the media has hyped up the idea that Airbnbs may be dangerous and used by criminals. At some point, it’s no wonder that the company would start to just cut off people with criminal records, because of the PR problems it causes. The company even went so far as to buy a background check company that it had used (though, as seen in the latest case, it’s still using third party background check providers).

Either way, it seems clear that Airbnb is going too far in banning people like Hallam, but it really shouldn’t be a surprise. If we keep pushing moral panic style stories about the “dangers” of “criminals” using services like Airbnb, we shouldn’t then be surprised when the company says “okay, no more people with a criminal record” no matter how totally unfair that might be.

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Companies: airbnb

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Comments on “The Media Demanded That Airbnb Do More Background Checks; Now It’s Upset That Airbnb Is Banning People With Criminal Records”

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12 Comments
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
That One Guy (profile) says:

'We said you should do X, not that you should do X!'

Media outlets: Airbnb is terrible and risky, why just look at the criminals using their services!

Five seconds later

Media outlets: Airbnb is terrible, just look at the people they refuse to let use their service just because they have a criminal record!

This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
Anonmylous says:

Racism by any other name

Background checks to rent your own home out on a platform? Many minorities are already not in a position to do this due to systemic racism in the criminal justice system (meaning they have a struggle to even become a homeowner financially). Now that same criminal past is being used to deny them access to this middle-class mecca, so of course this will definitely increase the issue minorities already face using this service. Great job AirBnB helping racists be racist!

gcobb (profile) says:

The problem isn't AirBnB

In civilised countries we have the concept of “spent convictions”. After a certain time, some convictions are not allowed to be used to influence decisions – and, in fact, are explicitly prohibited from being included in any research profiles (credit references, recruitment references, etc).

By the way, this is the reason behind the so-called “right to be forgotten”. Many people in the US believe that Europeans have a “right to be forgotten”. That is not the case, just that profiles reported by looking up our identity must not include, by law, any spent convictions. And, of course, it applies to profiles created by Google search just as much as those created by traditional credit reference and recruitment agencies.

naoEntendo (profile) says:

Are ex-cons _really_ criminals?

I naively thought the process was supposed to be:

  1. innocent person
  2. may or may not commit crime
  3. accused criminal
  4. convicted criminal
  5. convict (serving time / on parole)
  6. finished serving sentence / released (unless you were a sex offender)
  7. goto #1

Today it seems like we go from #1, skip #2, and then conflate #3 & #4 into criminal where you are cursed to remain for the rest of your life.

Loose rights like the ability to vote, receive extra harassment from LEO, be unable to live in certain areas, hold down certain jobs (or any jobs), and now apparently you can’t host or rent an Airbnb (not that I ever thought they were a good idea).

Soon, no one will be legally allowed to do anything. The United States will find itself like Amazon on a larger scale. Having chewed through all of the available citizenry, the only thing left for people to do is crime.

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