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#AirbnbWhileBlack: Exposing hidden biases in the sharing economy.

Earlier this year, a Harvard Business School study suggested that racial discrimination may be pervasive on Airbnb. Researchers created 20 identical Airbnb profiles, with one major difference: ten had distinctively White names and ten had distinctively African-American names. The researchers then sent out 6,400 booking requests to actual Airbnb hosts across five different U.S. cities to see how they’d respond. According to the study, “requests from guests with distinctively African-American names are roughly 16% less likely to be accepted than [requests from] identical guests with distinctively White names.”

What’s the backstory? As Shankar Vedantam reports for NPR:

Luca (one of the researchers) thinks this racial discrepancy is driven largely by unconscious bias—the hidden associations we have that affect our behavior without us realizing it. The way AirBnb’s platform is designed, names and photos are the first thing people see, and therefore one of the first things they consider, either consciously or unconsciously, when choosing a place to stay.

David King, Airbnb’s new director of “diversity and belonging,” is working with the team of Harvard researchers to address the issue of discrimination on the platform. One potential solution would be removing the names and photos of Airbnb guests or making those details less prominent, tempering the grounds for unconscious bias. But, “[t]he photos are on the platform for a reason,” King said. “It really does help to aid in the trust between the guest and the host . . . You want to make sure that the guest who shows up at your door is the person you’ve been communicating with.”

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