Airbnb hosts in Oregon will soon only see the initials of some prospective renters, not their full names, in a change designed to prevent discrimination against Black users of the online lodging marketplace.
The new policy stems from the settlement of a lawsuit that claimed hosts could reject customers because they could conclude that the prospective renters were Black based on their first names.
The change takes effect Jan. 31 and will last for at least two years. It will only apply in Oregon — it won’t even cover people from other states trying to rent an Airbnb listing in Oregon, according to the company.
Civil rights representatives and the company said Thursday that they see the policy as a research tool.
“If Black users face fewer incidents of discrimination under this system where you're obscuring first names, then it should be applied nationwide,” said Johnny Mathias, an official with Color of Change, which has worked with Airbnb to measure discrimination on the site.
Asked about expanding the initials-only policy, Airbnb spokeswoman Liz DeBold Fusco said, “We want to evaluate the impact of this change first ... to understand if there are learnings from this work that can inform future efforts to fight bias.”
In 2017, three Black women in Oregon sued Airbnb, claiming that the company’s requirement that customers post full names and photos enabled hosts to discriminate based on race, in violation of the state’s public-accommodations law.
Airbnb changed its policy the following year so that hosts could only see a photo after they accepted a booking. The San Francisco-based company settled the lawsuit in 2019 and posted a message about the new Oregon policy on its site late last month.
Airbnb has previously said it would begin to measure and reduce discrimination that people encounter when booking or hosting on the site.
“Discrimination is based on perception — and on Airbnb, people perceive race from things like first names and profile photos,” the company said in a 2020 blog. The company said that it was working with civil rights groups on research “to understand when and where racial discrimination happens on our platform and the effectiveness of policies that fight it.”