Airbnb is banning people with criminal records

Airbnb is banning people with criminal records

Excerpted from a Techdirt Blog by Mike Masnick

A story made the rounds recently about how Airbnb effectively banned Bethany Hallam for life. Hallam, an Allegheny County, Pennsylvania councilperson received a notification from Airbnb that a third party it used for background checks had noted a “criminal records match” in doing a background check, and she would not be able to use Airbnb to either rent or host.

As the story went viral, Airbnb went into defensive mode, and a couple days later lifted the ban. Hallam, rightly, highlights that she wonders about the millions of others with criminal records who may face similar lifetime bans for similarly ridiculous reasons. And, she’s not wrong.

Just a few months ago, a DC rapper named Young E Class made the same point, noting that he had paid his debt to society after spending 13 years in prison, and he didn’t think it was right that he was barred from ever staying in an Airbnb.

There are plenty of other, similar, stories if you look around. Four years ago, Marlon Peterson wrote a piece for USA Today bemoaning that Airbnb banned him for life, and wouldn’t allow him to stay in an Airbnb after chaperoning a group of children during the March for Our Lives event in Washington DC. Peterson noted that he had been convicted of attempted robbery and assault 16 years ago as a teenager, but had served his time, and had since dedicated his life to various programs to help end gun violence and youth crime. But he still can’t rent an Airbnb.

Of course, what’s left out of these stories is the fact that the media itself helped push Airbnb to implement such a policy.

It’s not hard to find local news orgs with stories of sex offenders renting via Airbnb. More commonly are a bunch of stories about Airbnb hosts with criminal records. And there are numerous articles warning of criminals using the service or criminal behavior happening at Airbnbs.

In other words, for years, the media has hyped up the idea that Airbnbs may be dangerous and used by criminals. At some point, it’s no wonder that the company would start to just cut off people with criminal records because of the PR problems it causes. The company even went so far as to buy a background check company that it had used (though, as seen in the latest case, it’s still using third party background check providers).

Either way, it seems clear that Airbnb is going too far in banning people like Hallam, but it really shouldn’t be a surprise. If we keep pushing moral panic style stories about the “dangers” of “criminals” using services like Airbnb, we shouldn’t then be surprised when the company says “okay, no more people with a criminal record” no matter how totally unfair that might be.

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