Airbnb Pumps Up Security With New Hires and Guarantees

Airbnb continues to roll out new security features at a breakneck pace to thwart mounting concerns over whether the site is a safe way to rent out your primary residence to travelers.

The heavily backed San Francisco start-up came under fire a couple of weeks ago after one customer’s horror story spread rapidly across the Internet.

Ever since then, it’s been apologizing and working round the clock to roll out new security features.

Brian Chesky, the CEO and co-founder, tells me that so far he’s gotten 3,000 emails since posting his email address ( on the site for any customers to contact him, and that engineers have been working past midnight and spending the night in the office to get new features completed quickly.

Most of the improvements are a direct response to the outcry, while only a few of them were already in the company’s pipeline.

“We realized that as we were entering the mainstream, there were a few opportunities to tighten up the platform,” Chesky said.

Today, it concluded work on a couple of major features, such as the $50,000 Host Guarantee, which means hosts will be reimbursed for property damage or theft and vandalism. Last week, the company also started providing 24-hour customer support using 100-plus agents in 18 countries working in multiple time zones.

It also launched Airbnb VoiceConnect, which allows people to make phone calls to one another without ever disclosing their real phone number. Privacy continues to be one of the company’s mantras, but that’s bending as users press to see a person’s real identity before conducting a transaction of this kind.

The need to make better security decisions in the future is also at the core of two hires. Airbnb has brought aboard Command Consulting Group, which will be reviewing the company’s practices and making recommendations, and hired Monroe Labouisse, who will be director of customer support after spending a decade at eBay and PayPal.

All of today’s improvements were outlined in a blog post today.

The guarantee will be retroactive and will definitely apply to EJ, the woman who chronicled her devastating story in a blog about how her San Francisco apartment was ransacked after she rented it to people via Airbnb.

The Airbnb Guarantee will allow hosts who believe their property was damaged or stolen during a stay to request funds from the company. Hosts can submit a request online, which will be examined by the customer service team. Airbnb will also have third parties that can go to the property to conduct an inspection if possible, and then a decision will be made.

The coverage will run alongside that of other insurance companies, meaning that if a person is refunded for his or her losses by another company, then the Airbnb Guarantee will not be necessary. The company still is recommending that hosts have insurance, and stresses that its guarantee does not replace it.

Chesky and Labouisse, who officially started at the company today, said that a number of previous customers have already reached out to inquire about the guarantee, but declined to disclose a specific number.

At $50,000, the guarantee is high enough that it signals to customers that Airbnb is serious about security and now has an incentive to make sure it is secure for all parties involved. Likewise, by making it retroactive, it means that it’s not just confident about its future, but also about most of the stays it has helped to mediate in the past.

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