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An Airbnb billboard in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo).
An Airbnb billboard in Seattle. (GeekWire Photo).

Airbnb is finally responding to months of discrimination complaints from people of color.

Over the past year, users have been sharing their experiences of racism on the platform, using the hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack. Their stories of abrupt cancellations and denied bookings, with little explanation, caught the media’s attention but the home-sharing company has been slow to act.

Today, Airbnb issued an answer to the criticism.  Beginning Oct. 1, the company will implement a new policy called “Open Doors.” If an Airbnb user feels he or she has been denied a stay based on prejudice, the company will find a comparable listing on its platform or alternative accommodations nearby.

Airbnb will also ask users to agree to a new nondiscrimination policy, starting Nov. 1. Hosts will have to confirm the following:

We believe that no matter who you are, where you are from, or where you travel, you should be able to belong in the Airbnb community. By joining this community, you commit to treat all fellow members of this community, regardless of race, religion, national origin, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age, with respect, and without judgment or bias.

In a report published last week, Harvard Business School researchers found that inquiries from guests with “white-sounding names” resulted in booking about 50 percent of the time, while guests with traditionally black names were only able to schedule stays about 42 percent of the time.

Airbnb also pledged to make its Instant Book feature more readily available to hosts to prevent discrimination based on names and profile photos.

Airbnb isn’t the only tech company struggling to curb racism on a platform with millions of users. Last month, neighborhood social network Nextdoor announced new features to prevent racial profiling within its community. In July, comedian Leslie Jones was forced off of Twitter by a caustic onslaught of racist tweets, highlighting the service’s abuse issues.

Racism exists everywhere but it is amplified on platforms with millions of users. Members of Airbnb’s community are acutely affected, as racist discrimination can inhibit them from using the service altogether.

In addition to policy changes, Airbnb is working with academics and experts on prejudice to create an anti-bias training program for members of its community. The company also commissioned a former ACLU exec to create a report about discrimination on the platform.

“These steps are just the beginning, not the end, of our efforts to combat bias and discrimination,” said Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky in a letter to users. “While we as a company have been slow on this issue, I am now asking you the community to help us lead the way forward.”

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