Airbnb Is Spending Millions of Dollars to Make Nightmares Go Away

The way Airbnb has handled crimes such as the New York attack, which occurred during a bitter regulatory fight, shows how critical the safety team has been to the company’s growth. Airbnb’s business model rests on the idea that strangers can trust one another. If that premise is undermined, it can mean fewer users and more lawsuits, not to mention tighter regulation. For all its importance, the safety team remains shrouded in secrecy. Insiders call it the “black box.” But eight former members and 45 other current and former Airbnb employees familiar with the team’s role, most of whom spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of breaching confidentiality agreements, provided a rare glimpse into its operations and internal struggles. The job, former team members say, is a nerve-wracking one, balancing the often conflicting interests of guests, hosts, and the company. “I had situations where I had to get off the phone and go cry,” a former agent recalls. “That’s all you can do.” The company says its safety agents are taught to prioritize customers in crisis, yet many understood themselves to have a dual role to protect both the individual and Airbnb’s public image. In sensitive cases, according to some former agents, they were encouraged to get a payout agreement signed as quickly as possible. Until 2017, other insiders say, every agreement came with a nondisclosure clause that barred the recipient from talking about what had happened, making further requests for money, or suing the company. That practice ended when the #MeToo movement showed how nondisclosure agreements were being used to shield high-profile individuals and companies from fallout over allegations of misconduct. Airbnb replaced the NDA section of its payout agreement with a narrower clause that says recipients can’t discuss the terms of their settlement or imply that it’s an admission of wrongdoing.

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