Airbnb denies a report that it rejected a plan to require government IDs to sign up for the home-sharing service because it might hurt growth

By Ben Sapra for Forbes

Home-sharing company Airbnb has a platform that can make it vulnerable to a host of problems, like theft, vandalism, and fraud. But when its safety team suggested that the company implement a government-ID requirement to join the platform two years ago, a new report from The Wall Street Journal says that Airbnb executives pushed back hard against the idea. 

Company executives told their safety and trust team that users would be more reluctant to sign up if asked to provide a government-issued ID, the Wall Street Journal’s Kirsten Grind and Shane Shifflett reported on Thursday. The company’s vice president of trust, Margaret Richardson, also told the Wall Street Journal that running background checks could also be seen as discriminatory to certain groups such as formerly incarcerated people.

Ben Breit, an Airbnb spokesperson, denied that the company had rejected such a plan on grounds of slowing user growth.

“More specifically, the unsubstantiated implication that the decision by the company, including its CEO, was related to reasons other than the best interests of users is simply wrong,” Breit’s email to Business Insider said. 

As the $31 billion company plans to go public amid growing concerns from investors and regulators about trust and safety on the platform grow, Airbnb’s resistance to requiring government IDs may change. 

Airbnb under scrutiny

A nationwide scam operation uncovered by the Vice reporter Allie Conti and a deadly shooting on an Airbnb property have already placed the company under closer scrutiny.

The shooting prompted Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky to announce a series of new safety initiatives in November, ranging from checking accuracy of photographs and addresses to verifying that hosts were who they said they were. 

Airbnb’s identity verification system, launched in 2013, currently relies on phone numbers, social-media accounts and payment instruments to verify users. Providing a government ID or a social security number isn’t absolutely necessary, according to the company. 

“If we are unable to verify a user based on a combination of their personal information and through a phone associated with their identity, we will require verification of government ID or the last 4 of their social security number in order to transact,” Breit told Business Insider. 

Breit said that individual hosts had the option to require that their guests to have government-issued IDs. In that event, the hosts themselves are also required to verify their ID. 

But until recently, the platform itself largely stayed away from assuming responsibility for the many problems that can occur on its platform. 

As regulators increasingly begin to hold tech companies accountable for misuse on their platforms, Airbnb may alternatively be required to implement policies that hold it accountable. Ride-sharing platform Uber lost its license to operate in London after regulators found multiple incidents where unauthorized drivers used the app to pick up customers. 

Richardson, the company’s vice president of trust, recently announced that Airbnb would ban all unauthorized parties and update its guest standards to begin addressing safety concerns starting next year; she stressed that these concerns only affected 0.05 percent of trips on the platform. 

“While these events are rare, we must continue to evaluate these incidents and seek new ways to prevent future occurrences to the greatest extent possible,” Richardson wrote.  

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