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Airbnb apologizes for racism complaints, outlines changes

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This summer Airbnb users shared stories of the racism they experienced on Airbnb.   TinaLaBang  Twitter

In a 32-page report, Airbnb, based in San Francisco, said that it would institute a new nondiscrimination policy that goes beyond what is outlined in several anti-discrimination laws and that it would ask all users to agree to a "community commitment" starting on November 1.

Many black users have said they were told the space was unavailable, only to see it rented shortly after to someone else.

"We have been slow to address these problems, and for this I am sorry", said Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky in a message published on the vacation rental website's blog.

"This has been a very different engagement ... and we're hoping that that this does address the problem", he said.

A newly rewritten nondiscrimination policy, also posted Thursday, specifically states that Airbnb hosts may not decline a guest based on race, color, ethnicity, national origin,
religion, sexual orientation, gender identity, or marital status.

Within the company itself, all employees will be mandated to take anti-bias training, whereas it was only optional before.

Laura Murphy, former director of the ACLU Legislative Office in D.C. who helped Airbnb conduct a 90-day study on the prevalence of discrimination throughout its platform, told Forbes that she thought the app's proposed policy changes were a strong start.

The Airbnb logo is displayed on a computer screen August 3, 2016, in London.

Airbnb is reducing the prominence of its guest photos and increasing instant bookings in an effort to keep hosts from rejecting guests based on their race, the company announced today. The company said it will release a diversity report later this month, which will reveal that just over 9% of its US employees come from underrepresented populations.

The high-profile campaign to ferret out discrimination came after an Airbnb host in the U.S. state of North Carolina fired off hateful, race-based messages to a black woman while canceling a stay she had booked at his home. "This outcry from the community led Airbnb to closely examine their nondiscrimination policies and procedures".

"Once #AirbnbWhileBlack gave a voice to users who experience discrimination on its platform, Airbnb responded with a speed, transparency, and thoughtfulness that's atypical among large corporations and Silicon Valley companies in particular", said Wade Henderson, president and CEO of The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights. Airbnb is also adopting an "open doors" policy that will help victims of discrimination find a place to stay around the same area.

According to a field study by Harvard University researchers late previous year, names of potential Airbnb guests that were percieved to be white were accepted 16 percent more often than black-sounding names. It has hosts in more than 30,000 cities worldwide and takes a commission of each booking as well as service fees to customers. If a guest can not book lodging because of discrimination, Airbnb will provide a staff member to find them a place to stay on their trip.

But Airbnb will not, for now, concede to critics one of their chief requests - abandoning the user photos that make it easy to identify online who is a minority.

"Results are results. The metric of success here is less discrimination and dehumanizing treatment of black folks and other people of color".

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