At the end of this month, Airbnb will be automatically opting US users into a system where their data will be analyzed for racial bias.
This summer, Airbnb announced the “Project Lighthouse” initiative to combat racial discrimination on its platform. The program is in partnership with Color of Change.
Color of Change is one of the largest online racial justice organizations across the USA. As part of the program, Airbnb will take it upon itself to scour through their users’ history and data to look for instances of racial discrimination. Armed with the insights from monitoring their users, Airbnb will supposedly establish new policies and tools to keep racism in check.
“This project will measure discrimination based on perception, using a privacy-centric methodology that determines the race someone might associate with a first name and profile photo,” said the company.
Aspects such as the reservation process, search patterns, cancelation reasons, and acceptance patterns will all be studied to understand racial discrimination across their platform.
“This project measures discrimination that’s based on perception. People often base their perception of someone’s race on their name and what they look like. So, to get these perceptions, we’ll share Airbnb profile photos and the first names associated with them with an independent partner that’s not part of Airbnb. This partner operates under a strict confidentiality agreement, so they are prohibited from sharing this information with anyone else.”
“Airbnb is setting an important precedent by taking measurable steps to examine and dismantle discriminatory online systems,” said Rashad Robinson, the president of Color of Change, in an announcement about the launch of the initiative.
Robinson said that, “It is important to understand that there are technology platforms that have already left irreversible marks on Black communities and communities of color around the country that need to be addressed.”
The users of the Airbnb app also have the choice to opt out of the program by changing a setting in the “Privacy & Sharing” page but will be opted in as default on August 31st.