Airbnb recently announced “Project Lighthouse” — a new study that will work to measure how much racial discrimination is experienced by users.
How Will Project Lighthouse Work?
Airbnb has partnered with civil rights organizations to study where race discrimination happens on the platform.
According to Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky in a statement to Axios, “The reason we’re doing this is because we have not achieved our goal of reducing all bias and discrimination on our platform.”
The initiative will attempt to find where hosts and travelers encounter racism on the platform, whether that’s during the booking process, review process, or interactions with customer support representatives.
Shortcomings of the Study
While the study may shed some light on racism inside the company’s digital platform, it will not be able to examine discrimination that takes place during an in-person meeting between a traveler and a host. The company’s structure as primarily a platform that connects hosts with travelers makes it difficult for Airbnb to police or study these interactions.
The study also will not cover broader society-level effects — Airbnb’s presence changes a community’s makeup and can impact how communities of color go about their lives through gentrification, the presence of real-estate developers, or other effects.
Previous Attempts at Reducing Discrimination on Airbnb’s Platform
This is not the first time Airbnb has worked to combat discrimination on the platform. In 2016, the company put forth an anti-discrimination policy that all users on the platform had to agree to.
The company also worked to increase the number of properties available via “Instant Booking” and hide user profile photos until after booking in an attempt to prevent racial bias from rental owners.
However, the company admits that it doesn’t know how well these previous programs have worked. CEO Brian Chesky said that Airbnb didn’t have the tools to see how effective the programs had been, and even if they had been effective, the company would have no way of knowing.
Airbnb says that Project Lighthouse is data-focused at its core, and it will be able to provide more measurable insights than previous efforts. It is debatable how to measure certain behaviors or whether certain things can be quantified. It is worth noting that this Airbnb initiative is a study, not a plan of execution with measurement parameters.