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Airbnb CEO on Discrimination: 'I Think We Were Late to This Issue'


Airbnb has been struggling with claims that the home-sharing service enables discrimination, especially against African-Americans. Airbnb Brian Chesky addressed the issue at Fortune’s Brainstorm Tech conference on Tuesday. Here are some of his remarks, lightly-edited.

“Generally speaking, I think we were late to this issue.

And one of the questions [was], “well why were you so late to this issue?” I think we were so focused on the notion of trust and keeping people safe. They wanted to have everyone have a real identity, with photos. Make sure, because we were responding to other crisis of trust and safety.

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And while that happened we took our eye off the ball on this in incredibly important issue. And what we noticed was that people are making judgments about who to let in their home. And by the way people should have a choice of who be in their home.

But what choices are they deciding? These choices were very subjective and discriminatory, potentially. And one guiding principle is that you want to give people tools so they can make objective measures.

We commissioned our own study in Stanford, and one of the things we found is there can be discrimination if everyone’s a stranger. You tend to snap judgments, to predispositions. But if you see somebody’s reviews, you learn about them and where they went to school. The moment you can take the stranger out of somebody.

And this isn’t just about race. This could be about countries.

Suddenly, this levels the playing field.

So what we need to do, first and foremost is add objective measures. So that people don’t rely on prejudice.

That said, there are racists in the world and we need to have a zero tolerance [for that]. And absolutely, we have zero tolerance. So we’ve developed a better escalation system so if we hear something in the community we absolutely make a stand in the community.

But the last thing I’ll say…is we are basically in the middle of a 90-day study.

Because we’re also realizing when we designed the platform, Joe, Nate and I, three white guys, there’s a lot of things we didn’t think about when we designed this platform. And so there’s a lot of steps that we need to reevaluate.”

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