Airbnb Apologizes, Offers $50,000 Guarantee in Hopes of Defusing Security Concerns

Airbnb has sent out a letter to its userbase today in an effort to de-escalate concerns about security on its site, which helps connect people who are willing to rent out their homes to complete strangers.

The PR firestorm kicked off last week after a woman, who goes by the name of EJ, blogged about how the apartment she rented out using Airbnb was completely trashed and vandalized.

Airbnb was able to confirm last week that a suspect is in custody, but now a whole new crop of customers with negative reviews have popped up with their own bad experiences here and here.

Hoping to defuse the situation, Brian Chesky, Airbnb’s CEO and co-founder, is sending a letter to its users today to apologize and to announce a new $50,000 guarantee that will protect the property of hosts who book through its Web site. (Yes, EJ will qualify; it will apply retroactively to any hosts who have reported incidents prior to today.)

The entire letter is embedded below.

It will be important to watch whether these steps will be enough to slow the questions regarding the company’s entire business model, which is a little bit like Craigslist but offers the appearance of safety measures.

In the letter, the San Francisco-based start-up, which just raised $112 million, says it hopes this can be a valuable lesson to other businesses “about what not to do in a time of crisis, and why you should always uphold your values and trust your instincts.”

In addition to the new guarantee, it will also have a 24-hour customer hotline beginning next week; it has also added an in-house task force dedicated to reviewing listings for suspicious activity and says you can contact the CEO directly at brian.chesky@airbnb.com.

Here’s the entire letter:

Last month, the home of a San Francisco host named EJ was tragically vandalized by a guest. The damage was so bad that her life was turned upside down. When we learned of this our hearts sank. We felt paralyzed, and over the last four weeks, we have really screwed things up. Earlier this week, I wrote a blog post trying to explain the situation, but it didn’t reflect my true feelings. So here we go.

There have been a lot of questions swirling around, and I would like to apologize and set the record straight in my own words. In the last few days we have had a crash course in crisis management. I hope this can be a valuable lesson to other businesses about what not to do in a time of crisis, and why you should always uphold your values and trust your instincts.

With regards to EJ, we let her down, and for that we are very sorry. We should have responded faster, communicated more sensitively, and taken more decisive action to make sure she felt safe and secure. But we weren’t prepared for the crisis and we dropped the ball. Now we’re dealing with the consequences. In working with the San Francisco Police Department, we are happy to say a suspect is now in custody. Even so, we realize that we have disappointed the community. To EJ, and all the other hosts who have had bad experiences, we know you deserve better from us.

We want to make it right. On August 15th, we will be implementing a $50,000 Airbnb Guarantee, protecting the property of hosts who book through our website. We will extend this policy to EJ and any other host who may have reported their home damaged while renting on Airbnb in the past or future.

We’ve built this company by listening to our community. Guided by your feedback, we have iterated to become safer and more secure. Our job’s not done yet; we’re still evolving. In the wake of these recent events, we’ve heard an uproar from people, both inside and outside our community. Know that we were closely listening.

Today we are launching a new safety section of the website (www.airbnb.com/safety) with the following offerings:

Airbnb Guarantee

Starting August 15th, when hosts book reservations through Airbnb their personal property will be covered for loss or damage due to vandalism or theft caused by an Airbnb guest up to $50,000 with our Airbnb Guarantee. Terms will apply to the program and may vary (e.g. by country). This program will also apply retroactively to any hosts who may have reported documented incidents prior to August 1, 2011.

24-Hour Customer Hotline

Beginning next week, we will have operators and customer support staff ready to provide around the clock phone and email support for anything big or small.

2x Customer Support Team

Since last month we have more than doubled our Customer Support team from forty-two to eighty-eight people, and will be bringing on a 10-year veteran from eBay as our Director of Customer Support next week.

Dedicated Trust & Safety Department

Airbnb now has an in-house task force devoted to the manual review of suspicious activity. This team will also build new security features based on community feedback.

Contact the CEO

If you can’t get a hold of anyone or if you just want to contact me, email brian.chesky@airbnb.com.

We’ve also added several other safety-related features to strengthen the trust and confidence of our community:

Safety Tips

Suggestions for both guests and hosts on how to utilize our tools to better inform your decisions.

Verified Profiles

Our updated user profiles chronicle their history on Airbnb, giving you more insight than ever about a potential host or guest. Along with standard social information, you’ll also see if a user has verified their phone number, connected their Facebook account, and whether the majority of their reviews are positive or negative. And as always, you can read their reviews and references.

Customized trust settings

We now give hosts the ability to set custom trust parameters for bookings; those who don’t meet the specified requirements will be unable to make a reservation. Selections for Trust Settings include: verified phone numbers, profile descriptions, location information, with more coming soon.

Product suggestions poll

Have more ideas on improving safety? Now, you can submit and vote on the best ideas through our new product suggestions poll.

Many more product updates will be released in the coming days. In addition to these new features, there are safeguards already in place to protect the community. These include over 60 million Social Connections, private messaging before booking, a secure reservation and payment system and transaction-based reviews. We also provide verified photographs, fraud detection algorithms, and flagging capabilities.

These steps are just the beginning. Improving the safety and security of our system is ongoing. Although we do have these measures in place, no system is without some risk, so we remind you to be vigilant and discerning. As a member of the community, you have invaluable experience that we hope to draw upon to improve our system. If you have any ideas or feedback, please share them with us at www.airbnb.com/safety.

What’s made us proud during this trying time is the response of our community. Emails of support to EJ poured in; many hosts offered her a place to stay in their homes. It’s been inspiring to see that Airbnb can really bring out the best in people. Like Airbnb, the world works on the idea that people are good, and we’re really in this together.

When we first started Airbnb, I told my mom about our plans for the business and she said, “Are you crazy? I’d never do that.” But when I told my late grandfather he said, “Of course! Everyone used to stay in each others’ homes.” We’re bringing back this age-old idea with new technology. Now each day, you and the rest of the community are creating meaningful connections around the world.

Thank you for being part of our community.

Sincerely,

Brian Chesky
CEO, Co-founder
Airbnb
brian.chesky@airbnb.com


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Another gadget you don’t really need. Will not work once you get it home. New model out in 4 weeks. Battery life is too short to be of any use.

— From the fact sheet for a fake product entitled Useless Plasticbox 1.2 (an actual empty plastic box) placed in L.A.-area Best Buy stores by an artist called Plastic Jesus