Even with updated security measures, Airbnb hasn't insulated the system from the risks inherent to renting out your home to strangers from the Internet. Like, the risk that someone will use your apartment as a temporary brothel, which is apparently what happened in Stockholm. The Kernel's Milo Yiannopoulos reported that two young women decided to list their place on Airbnb while they were traveling for a month, but returned this week to be greeted by a note from police informing them their place had been raided on Saturday catching "two call girls in flagrante delicto with clients." One of the apartment dwellers described the prostitutes as Irish and "looking very high class, with business suits… it was strange that they would rent an apartment when they clearly could afford a hotel” Today, though, TechCrunch's Mike Butcher reported that the prostitutes were not Irish, just that they had arrived in Sweden from Ireland. In their statement to both reporters, Airbnb said, "We were appalled to hear about this and we will work with local authorities to investigate the situation. We’re also providing ongoing support to the host." That apparently includes putting the roommates up in a fancy hotel while their apartment is professionally cleaned, which is necessary as apparently there was a plastic bag filled with used condoms left behind.
This incident is actually not the worst thing to happen to someone who rented out their apartment on Airbnb. Last year, in an incident that led Airbnb to beef up its security practices, we heard about horrific tales of meth and property damage. And, back then, Airbnb didn't approach the situation with such bend-over-backwards kindness. (It took the site a day to apologize.) It has since learned its PR lessons. Last August, CEO Brian Chesky wrote in a blog post, "In the last few days we have had a crash course in crisis management," and announced revamped policies with a 24-hour hotline, safety tips, and a link to contact the CEO.
But, these changes seem to have gone a lot farther at boosting "crisis management" rather than avoiding crises in the first place. The trust and safety center has "tips" for choosing guests and putting up the right postings, but, none of it fixes the core issue: people you might not want into your apartment might rent your place through Airbnb. If that happens, the most useful part is the $1,000,000 host guarantee, insurance that covers property damage and theft. (That money is presumably paying for the house cleaning and hotel for the Stockholm couple.) But, there is only so much post-trauma clean-up can do to make users feel better. "We feel uneasy about being in our own apartment after this," one of the women in Stockholm, who chose to remain anonymous, told Yiannopolous. A source "close to the incident" told Butcher, "I’ve always seen Airbnb as a great company and idea and I’ve never thought of something like this happening… Now I’m going to think twice before renting out my place… or put up a sign… No prostitution allowed."
But they may be a small minority. Last year's PR issues didn't kill the site. It has seen huge growth, with 10 million guest nights booked as of June of this year, since its founding in 2008. And the company has received over $120 million from the venture capitalist crowd, according to TechCrunch.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
We want to hear what you think about this article. Submit a letter to the editor or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.