Privacy SOS

Deactivation of sex worker’s Airbnb account suggests company searches for info on users

Sex worker Julie Simone recently tried to use Airbnb for the first time, but after successfully booking an apartment received an email notifying her that her reservation had been cancelled and her account had been deleted. Fusion reports that Simone received the following email from Airbnb notifying her that she was no longer welcome to use its service [emphasis mine]:

We wanted to reach out to you regarding your Airbnb account. After a routine review, and given information uncovered pursuant to online public records, we have determined that it is in the best interest of Airbnb, and for the users on our site, to deactivate your account permanently. We realize that this may come as a disappointment and that you may have questions regarding this determination. We hope you understand that this decision is exercised at our sole discretion and that we are not obligated to provide an explanation as to the action taken against your account, nor are we liable to a user in any way with respect to deactivating or canceling his or her account.

As Fusion points out, anyone who puts her legal name into a search engine could easily piece together that Simone works in adult entertainment. Airbnb says that it conducted a “routine review” of “online public records,” and after doing so “determined that it is in the best interest of Airbnb…to deactivate [her] account immediately.”

When you sign up for an Airbnb account, the service requires that you submit a copy of your government identification card. This is part of what Airbnb calls its “verification” process. Does Airbnb also, as part of this process, conduct Google or even data-broker searches to determine whether or not someone is a good fit to use their service? It seems very likely. 

© 2017 ACLU of Massachusetts.