Editor’s Note 04.10.15: It’s been almost two years since this post, and it remains one of the most active on our blog. A lot has happened with AirBnB since then, including a) $675M of additional capital in five rounds, b) paying out ”tens of millions” of taxes to make nice with San Francisco, their home base, and c) remaining leaders in design inspired solutions.
But when we compared this story to today’s reality, there was one thing that stood out: most of the comments below are about one singular topic, the user’s satisfaction.
Yes, the service was provided (someone slept there), but in some way the user was left wanting. So, we reasoned, if AirBnB (and others) are going to continue to lead sharing into the third wave, they will need continued improvement in user satisfaction by doing trust, safety, and quality even better. For a possible solution to this problem- and the comments below- check out TrustCloud’s Satisfaction Guarantee, Peer Protect. Here’s a brief video explaining it.
Now, here’s the original article, and the comment string.
~~~~~Published June 2013 ~~~~~~
How much information are people willing to surrender in order to improve their own safety?
A pertinent question, given the uproar over the recent NSA leaks over top secret data mining and surveillance programs. Of course, Airbnb is not the NSA, but they’ve been facing a similar dilemma since their new Verified ID system launched at the end of April in an effort to promote trust and safety between Airbnb guests and hosts. Instead, it triggered a backlash among some users and may have done more harm than good.
Basically, the new verification system requires Airbnb travelers to submit a form of offline identification, either their passport or photo ID, along with access to their Facebook or LinkedIn profile in an attempt to match users online and offline identification. Users that do not satisfy the online ID requirements are then asked to submit a short video introducing themselves to other Airbnb members.
Doc Searls, a long-time Airbnb user and aficionado of online identity systems, wrote this blog post recently, titled, “Let’s help Airbnb rebuild the bridge it just burned.” A quick scroll through will give you a good idea of some of the new system’s shortcomings. Ironically, many users cite their unwillingness to buy into the new identification system due to a lack of trust in Airbnb’s online security. Others simply didn’t see the need for Airbnb to require passports and Facebook accounts when what they’ve done in the past has worked just fine.
Airbnb has had tremendous success in the past because the entire service was built around one key purpose: bridging the gap between travelers and hosts. In a way, this new verification system acts as a wedge that splits the two, adding an additional obstacle that might discourage anyone not comfortable with sharing additional information.
That’s why if I were a host, I wouldn’t want to lose bookings for requirements that I don’t need. If I can tell you have a clean track record but you haven’t verified your Facebook account, I’d probably be okay with you staying in my place. And if not, I might impose stricter requirements, only accepting people who have verified accounts. As a result, I might be better protected, but I’d also get fewer bookings. That’s a fair compromise.
For some Airbnb users, verification through Facebook/LinkedIn is a step backward. Airbnb has collected users’ addresses, phone numbers, credit cards, even social security numbers (for tax documents), so why do they need access to social profiles? One disgruntled user had this to say in the comments on the Airbnb blog:
“My ‘reality’ has been verified by my hosts and my guests: people in four countries have left feedback about their experiences with me… I’m happy to send you my drivers license, but don’t see why you would need it, when you already have the rest. There is just no way I’m linking up my Facebook account so you can data mine my friends, keep an eye on my day to day activity, or examine my relationships. There are enough safety checks on me through the relationship we’ve already developed.”
In defense of Airbnb, what they’re trying to do makes a lot of sense. Anonymity is a serious issue for a service that encourages users to let strangers stay in their homes, especially when Airbnb is underwriting the insurance. The Verified ID system is a commendable effort toward that end. I don’t think people have any problem with verifying who they are, they’re just not comfortable with giving up more personal data when they don’t see the need, and rightfully so. In the digital age, a user’s data might be their most valuable asset. It should be safeguarded and used with discretion. It should belong, as we say, to the people.
A reasonable compromise may be found in the world of third-party online reputation systems, like TrustCloud. These services work on the side of the consumer by giving total control over how much information users are comfortable with providing, and at the same time giving Airbnb what they need, which is verification, without giving up access to users’ data.
What Airbnb needs to do next is reconnect with their community and find a way to meet safety requirements with information users are willing to share. If some are reluctant to connect their Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, they should be free to keep using the service without a Verified badge so Airbnb can see if it causes a drop-off in guest approvals and bookings. How users respond to the Verified ID badge is the best indicator as to whether or not the new system is actually improving the Airbnb experience.
Would you trust Airbnb with a copy of your passport and access to your Facebook account? Let us know in the comments.