Last fall, hoping to sublet a
place for a couple months somewhere on the California coast, we searched the Airbnb offerings and found a
dream deal: a house in a redwood forest just a few minutes walk from
picturesque bluffs and a sandy, kelp strewn beach. It was cheaper than
renting a small apartment in L.A. or San Francisco, and we spent six blissful weeks there. We're going back this autumn. And even as I write this
post, I am sitting in a Portland, Oregon, backyard, next to the herb
garden that my landlord for two weeks has just given me license to
harvest. We're here for a wedding, and these digs are better and cheaper than any decent hotel.
Put simply, Airbnb has frequently made my life better.
But as my colleague noted, its success means that "it's no longer just
graphic designers in Carroll Gardens sharing apartments with associate
editors in Oakland. And several apparent criminals have caught on that
they can pay a small amount of money and get full access to someone's
apartment, including all of the information about that person's
identity." Airbnb is being forced to figure out what happens when
malicious people take advantage of the basic trust that's necessary if
online relationships are to make all of us better off in the less
secure, non-virtual world.
The company's immediate fix: insurance.
August 15th, we will be implementing a $50,000 Airbnb Guarantee,
protecting the property of hosts from damage by Airbnb guests who book
reservations through our website," Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky wrote
in a Monday email sent to all registered users of the site. "We will
extend this program to ... any other hosts who may have reported such
property damage while renting on Airbnb in the past."
Airbnb renters, this only matters insofar as we want people to keep
renting to us. As long as the site exists, that isn't likely to be
a problem for me personally. My unusual name, long Google trail, and
the fact that I verifiably work for a well respected national magazine
is sufficient to immediately persuade most landlords that I am not going
to go rogue, take their digital camera to sell, or abscond with their clean white
linens and fancy French cologne.
But what about my own dwelling. Is $50K insurance enough to incentivize me to rent to people from the Internet? I think
so, but only because of another Airbnb security feature that I haven't
seen discussed, and that seems like a much bigger game-changer to me
going forward: the fact that lots of folks on Airbnb are connecting
their profiles to their Facebook account. Some weeks back, when I was on
the site looking for a short term rental in Southern California, it surprised me
to see how many friends of Facebook friends were landlords -- one guy
who had a place that interested me went to graduate school with one of
my friends from high school, for example.