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Public Advocate Claims Airbnb Enables Racial Discrimination Against Guests, Hosts

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) -- The New York City Public Advocate's office claimed Thursday that evidence suggests Airbnb is allowing for discrimination against both hosts and guests.

Public Advocate Letitia James said two recent studies by the Harvard School of Business showed patterns of discrimination against people of color when it comes to Airbnb customers.

"Discrimination of any kind will never be tolerated in our City, and that includes our rental market and shared economy," James said in a news release. "Airbnb must implement safeguards to prevent the racism and bigotry that are pervasive on its platform. I urge Airbnb to take swift action to reform its policies so New Yorkers who use its platform are protected from discrimination."

James issued a letter asking Airbnb to adopt policy changes. She asked the company to conduct and disclose a data review on response rates of non-white guests looking for accommodation through Airbnb compared with nonwhite guests.

James further asked that Airbnb revise its discrimination policy to clearly state zero tolerance, and conceal host and guest names until after transactions are completed so as to eliminate possible racism or discrimination.

In the past two years, James said, Harvard Business School released two studies suggesting a pattern of racism among Airbnb users.

A 2014 study, "Digital Discrimination: The Case of," said non-black hosts earned about 12 percent more than black hosts for equivalent Airbnb rentals, James' office said in the release. A 2015 study, Racial Discrimination in the Sharing Economy: Evidence from a Field Experiment," found that using fake profiles in national urban markets, guests with typically black-sounding names were about 15 percent less likely to be accepted than guests with typically white-sounding names, the release said.

In response to James' complaint Airbnb head of diversity and belonging David King released a statement saying the company would take steps to fight racism and discrimination, but said the company would go on using profile pictures for customers.

"We recognize that bias and discrimination present significant challenges, and we are taking steps to address them. Profile photos are an important part of our community and are one of the many tools that help hosts and guests connect with one another," King said in the statement. "We welcome the opportunity to work with anyone that can help us reduce potential discrimination in the Airbnb community."

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