When booking accommodation, whether you are traveling domestically or internationally, one of the top places to look is Airbnb – mainly for their lower prices, convenient locations and to “live like a local”. Really it’s a no brainer and for a travelling escort using Airbnb would be no different, until now.
Recently, stories have been coming to life about various sex workers around the world having their private Airbnb accounts terminated. When they ask why, they are told in an around about way that their accounts “didn’t follow our Terms of Service and community standards”. This happened to US based sex worker Ramona Flour who went on a private holiday with her partner to New York, as a first time user of the booking site. Ramona used her personal email and legitimate name. Shortly after, her account was suspended. So how did Airbnb find out that she was an escort?
Xbiz has reported that Airbnb now owns the patent to an AI technology and it appears that this technology now enables Airbnb to easily discriminate against people in certain categories, including sex workers in Australia. The technology scans the internet for related social media posts and other forms of online data. So does the tech stigmatise sex work? Well Airbnb justifies this by reporting breaches for “involvement in pornography” – we can only imagine what ramification this could have on a person victimised by a ‘revenge porn’ attack. This breach falls alongside other breaches like “drug use” and “involvement in hate groups”.
If true this type of discrimination seems to go against Airbnb’s own non-discrimination policy. Airbnb encourages hosts to be open-minded in a policy that claims to foster “inclusion and respect” and “undermines prejudice rooted in misconception, misinformation and misunderstanding”. The policy echoed similar clauses from a fellow Silicon Valley start-up – Google, which famously had “Don’t be evil” as a clause in their terms and conditions. This was removed in a legal review in April 2018.
When it comes to safety and screening to determine if someone is a suitable ‘guest’, no one knows this better than a private escort. So is the new screening technology a step too far by Airbnb into the lives of their users? That’s the real question. We hope Airbnb stay true to the alleged real reasons for acquiring the tech, that is, to better provide a safer experience for guests and hosts alike (and not just to protect the interest of their shareholders).
The fight to end discrimination against sex workers continues. In the meantime, please be mindful when creating a profile and booking on Airbnb.