Airbnb Allegedly Manipulated Data to Hide Illegal Hosts in NYC

An independent report questions the accuracy of Airbnb’s recent data dump.

Airbnb co-founders Brian Chesky, Nathan Blecharczyk and Joe Gebbia (Credit: Airbnb)

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Airbnb may have deleted more than 1,000 NYC listings before releasing data late last year in an attempt to present a more positive picture to the public.

Last November, Airbnb released a “transparency pledge” promising to play nice with cities, follow their rules and make more information about the economics of its business model available to the public. This pledge was followed a month later by a year’s worth of data that seemed to show that most Airbnb hosts are renting out their spaces legally.

But an independent report released Wednesday says otherwise, claiming the company “misled the media and the public” by removing illegal listings from its site in November before making the data available. Once the company got good press from its data dump, the report claims that the number of illegal listings on the site began to tic back up almost immediately.

New York state law bans apartment rentals of fewer than 30 days unless a permanent occupant is present. Since hosts with multiple listings cannot be present in all their apartments at once, their short-term, full apartment rentals are illegal. While Airbnb claimed that “95 percent of our entire home hosts share only one listing,” the report found that this was true for “less than two weeks of the year.”

Matt Mittenthal, a spokesman for New York’s attorney general, Eric T. Schneiderman, told the New York Times, “If this analysis is accurate, it appears that Airbnb is again trying to downplay the number of illegal apartment listings on the site.

“Airbnb continues to show a blatant disregard for New York laws designed to protect the rights of tenants and prevent the proliferation of illegal hotels.”

The report also makes it clear that this was a NYC-specific purge, and provided data from several cities to show that similar purges of hosts did not take place in those locations at any time during the year. Most of the listings removed in NYC were in Manhattan.

In a statement to the Times, Nick Papas, a spokesman for Airbnb, stuck to the message that the site’s users are hard-working residents just supplementing their incomes. “The vast majority of our hosts are everyday people who have just one listing and share their space a few nights a month to help make ends meet,” Papas said. “Airbnb is an open people-to-people platform where listings come on and go off throughout the year.”

The reports authors, Tom Slee and Murray Cox, the founder of Inside Airbnb, had some harsh words for the company, and said in their report that their research shows that Airbnb is moving away from transparency, not toward it.

This data manipulation by Airbnb, in pursuit of its public relations goals and as part of its resistance to regulation, shows that the company has no commitment to transparency. An ‘open and transparent company’ does not sweep part of its business under the carpet before letting outsiders look around; a company that truly co-operates with cities would be open about the changes on its platform.

Cox and Lee dig into much more in their report, and also shared the data sets they used to compile their report. Both are available here.

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Kelsey E. Thomas is a writer and editor based in the most upper-left corner of the country. She writes about urban policy, equitable development and the outdoors (but also about nearly everything else) with a focus on solutions-oriented journalism. She is a former associate editor and current contributing editor at Next City.

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Tags: new york cityairbnb

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