Vest was afraid of what might happen if Ralph saw him leave. “I know what he had [at] stake by being caught,” Vest said. But he managed to leave the apartment without incident, get in his car, and make two phone calls—one to his wife, and one to Airbnb’s safety team.
The company refunded Vest’s money, paid for a hotel room for the night, and eventually removed the host from the site. But Vest alleges that Airbnb made several missteps in the run-up to, and subsequent investigation of, his stay with Ralph. He has retained counsel and informed Airbnb that he is considering filing a civil suit against it under Florida’s Deceptive and Unfair Trade Practices Act. He says the company should have flagged his host sooner for the name discrepancy and the fact that he did not have his landlord’s permission to rent out the property, which is in violation of Airbnb’s terms of service. He also alleges that Airbnb mistreated him during its investigation, and that it should have done more to support him as he reached out to law enforcement. (A representative for Airbnb declined to comment on the specifics of Vest’s allegations.)
In emails reviewed by The Atlantic, Airbnb told Vest that the company is taking his case “extremely seriously” and that guest safety is its “top priority.” But Vest says he feels Airbnb treated him as a frustrated guest when he feels he was the victim of a crime.
“This wasn’t [just] a negative experience,” he said. “This was a criminal act.”
Airbnb’s rules allow cameras outdoors and in living rooms and common areas, but never in bathrooms or anywhere guests plan to sleep, including rooms with foldout beds. Starting in early 2018, Airbnb added another layer of disclosure: If hosts indicate they have cameras anywhere on their property, guests receive a pop-up informing them where the cameras are located and where they are aimed. To book the property, the guests must click “agree,” indicating that they’re aware of the cameras and consent to being filmed.
Of course, hosts have plenty of reason to train cameras on the homes they rent out to strangers. They can catch guests who attempt to steal, or who trash the place, or who initially say they’re traveling alone, then show up to a property with five people.
A representative for Airbnb’s Trust & Safety communications department told me the company tries to filter out hosts who may attempt to surveil guests by matching them against sex-offender and felony databases. The company also uses risk scores to flag suspicious behavior, in addition to reviewing and booting hosts with consistently poor scores.