Liz Gannes

Recent Posts by Liz Gannes

Airbnb Now Wants to Check Your Government ID

Airbnb is about to take a very big bet against anonymity.

Going further than any significant consumer tech company has before, the peer-to-peer travel accommodation site, valued at $2.5 billion, wants to combine users’ online and offline identities with a process that includes checking official photo IDs.

It’s a gamble. In order to better foster a service where users are on their best behavior and feel comfortable trusting each other to stay in their homes, Airbnb will risk the ire of privacy defenders and the loss of users that comes from the friction of a more complicated registration process.

“We are drawing a line here and saying we don’t stand for anonymous experiences,” Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky said in an interview last week at the company’s San Francisco headquarters. “We don’t think you can be trusted in a place where you’re anonymous.”

A new Airbnb “Verified Identification” process will require users to show that they are a real established online person (through a history of participation and an active existing network on Linkedin or Facebook, or three positive reviews from previous Airbnb stays) and a real established offline person (by scanning their photo ID with the Airbnb mobile app or providing personal details as they would with a credit check).

To be verified by Airbnb, users must connect those online and offline records under the same name.

Starting today, 25 percent of Airbnb’s U.S. users will be told they have to do this before they can further participate. Any other user can opt into the process, and hosts will be able to say they only rent to verified users.

Chesky said he expects to have all Airbnb users verified over the course of the next year.


Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky

For context, Chesky drew historical precedents to sites like eBay — where users establish a reputation with a pattern of positive transactions — and Facebook — where users are expected to participate using their real names. But he argued that those virtual identities are brittle, because people with tarnished reputations can just delete their old account and start new ones. Attaching their offline identity would make it a lot harder to do that.

“I’m not saying the whole world will work this way,” Chesky explained, “but with Airbnb, people are sleeping in other people’s homes and other people’s beds. So there’s a level of trust necessary to participate that’s different from an eBay or Facebook.”

After a widely publicized incident two years ago, where an Airbnb host saw her apartment trashed, the company has introduced various commitments to trust and safety, including better customer services and a guarantee to cover $1 million in property damage. This is the biggest move in that direction.

As Chesky describes it, Airbnb’s verified accounts will be a larger step forward for the networked world. “This is a necessity for the shared economy,” he said. So, while today verified accounts may improve trust between Airbnb users, tomorrow they might be a sort of passport between the online and offline world for other services, as well.

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