Airbnb, a service that helps people rent out their homes as a hotel, is losing credibility by the day, as a second renter has come forward with a horror story. Last week, "EJ," a woman who posted her San Francisco apartment to the site, explained in a blog post that the week-long vacationers she let into her home trashed the place, reported TechCrunch's Michael Arrington. Airbnb made it seem like an isolated incident and after a few hiccups, it looked like the site would come out relatively scratch-free from the firestorm. But on Sunday TechCrunch detailed another such story, where one Troy Dayton's Oakland home was ransacked, his birth certificates stolen, and Airbnb would only, after not responding right away, offer him some free nights with their service.
Of course with a setup like this, renters run the risk of letting dangerous people into their homes, but the company could better protect both their customers and their reputation if they handled these situations with more grace. Airbnb didn't exactly go out of its way to compensate victims, explained Arrington. "With both EJ and Troy the company seemed to express lots of empathy, but negotiated hard and delayed on any actual compensation."
In EJ's case, "the confusion seems to be around whether or not Airbnb will compensate her for her losses." EJ eventually wrote that Airbnb had gone out of their way to make her feel comfortable. But she later retracted her endorsement. More recently, Airbnb was less friendly and focused on asking her to exchange her original post for one with a more positive tone, reports Arrington.
Airbnb certainly didn't bend over backwards for Dayton either. After the incident occurred, he had trouble tracking down an emergency contact. And when he finally found one, he received an auto-response with a message to email the email address he had just emailed. "This freaked me out when I was frazzled. Hundreds of millions in venture financing, millions of dollars in fees, and no 24-hour help desk for emergencies? What am I paying them the exorbitant fees for?" Dayton told Arrington. After eventually tracking down a contact, Dayton had to haggle with Airbnb for some sort of compensation, explained Arrington.
Even after the poor customer service, Dayton doesn't fault Airbnb and still uses the site. "He doesn’t think the company owed him money for damages because he thinks it’s his own fault for letting the woman in," explained Arrington.
Yet, the way Airbnb has handled these situations doesn't bode well for the company. "What’s really hurting Airbnb is all this massaging of statements to victims and the press," argued Arrington. He's not the only one to think this.
As more incidents pop up, will people pay Airbnb's fees and open their homes to relative strangers, wonders AllThingsD's Tricia Duryee. "It’s unclear whether this incident will blow away, or if Airbnb’s reputation will be forever tarnished."
For EJ, it's not about the money. "Obviously, the financial damages have been significant, but it has come down to a matter of principle and how I feel they disregarded me and my situation," she told USAToday's Lauren Bly. "I still hurt, and I don't know how you make that right." Airbnb may have ultimately given EJ and Dayton the compensation they deserved, but they should have nipped the problem in the bud, argues The Examiner's Michael Santo. "It really turned into #ransackgate when "EJ" posted a blog post about the matter, which eventually went viral. While the Airbnb's customer service department was initially "all over" the incident, once the blog post went live, things went cold. That was Airbnb's biggest mistake." The way Airbnb handled EJ and Dayton comes off as "calous" and "selfish," believes Santo.
Airbnb isn't the only service like this out there, but its security isn't as extensive as similar sites'. Roomorama, a competitor, runs identity checks, reports BetaBeats Adrianne Jeffries. Of course, renters should go into this type of situation with caution, reminds the San Francisco Chronicle's James Temple. "The mostly fawning coverage of Airbnb so far has basically left the average consumer with the impression that it's a hip, modern product, used by hip, modern people. All of which glosses over the very real dangers of turning over your home to complete strangers, who might not be hip, modern or particularly nice." But, even so, it doesn't mean Airbnb isn't at fault for not providing standard security measures for its users.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.