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In Airbnb's discrimination stumbles, start-ups see an opportunity

Innclusive is an Airbnb-like platform created as a result of digital discrimination claims on Airbnb.
Innclusive is an Airbnb-like platform created as a result of digital discrimination claims on Airbnb.
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This summer, hundreds shared their stories of discrimination at the hands of AirBnB hosts using the hashtag #AirBnBWhileBlack.

Users claimed they were denied listings based on the color of their skin and after initially remaining silent, Airbnb sprung into action.

The company began a review process. Midway through the company's anti-discrimination overhaul, we spoke with Laura Murphy, former head of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington DC legislative office, who was retained by AirBnB to lead the effort:

Three months later, and Airbnb has released a 32-page report detailing how they are working to "Fight Discrimination and Build Inclusion." But can a discrimination problem like this really be tackled in just a few months?

Deepa Fernandes spoke to Rohan Gilkes, CEO and founder of Innclusive, an Airbnb-like platform that is about four weeks away from launching. It was created at the height of the #AirbnbWhileBlack controversy.

Interview Highlights

You founded Innclusive just this summer, what was the incident that led to its creation?

"What led to its creation was me just trying to take a trip to Idaho and looking for a property on Airbnb and I was told that the dates that were shown as available were not in fact available and I chose other dates and I did not get those dates either and I felt something was weird. So, I had one of my white friends go and select one of those dates that I was told were unavailable and my friend was approved right away. That kind of started me down the path of building a competing business."

How are you going to do it differently from Airbnb?

"The biggest thing for us is: how do we remove bias from the platform, and the source of bias when people are deciding to allow someone to rent their property. The source of that bias has pointed to really two things: One, the photograph of the person on their profile and two, the name of that person. So, if you're a person of color or if you have a name that denotes that you may be a person of color, bias is going to be introduced in the platform. So, what we're doing, is removing the photo and the name until after the booking is made and then connecting the host and the traveler at that point."

Now, Airbnb has released a lengthy report, addressing bad experiences like you had. Do you feel like they're addressing with their new guidelines some of these issues and are they going to be doing similar things like you are?

"There's one piece that they're doing that's exactly like we've been talking about for a few months now. If you say that your property is unavailable, it then becomes unavailable for anybody else. So, you can't say 'Oh you know, we're not available for September 3rd.' and then somebody else comes along and you say 'Okay, now we're available.' So, that part they are fixing, that's something we have already built into our platform as well. I don't think they're going far enough because if there are photos there, people are going to use photos and they're going to use names as a way to inject bias."

To hear the full interview, click the blue play button above.