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Why is Airbnb banning people? CHOICE calls out accommodation service for lack of transparency

Airbnb’s secretive algorithm highlights need for stronger consumer protections.

An investigation by CHOICE into accommodation booking service, Airbnb, has revealed details of an algorithm that can read social media posts, blogs and internet databases to determine if someone is 'trustworthy' enough to book a property on the popular platform.

Airbnb's privacy policy states that automated processes which analyse users' activities both on and off Airbnb can be used to restrict or suspend access to the accommodation platform. 

CHOICE has spoken to Australians who have been removed from Airbnb without explanation, despite good reviews from many Airbnb hosts.

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CHOICE Consumer Data Advocate, Kate Bower, said that most Australians would be shocked to learn that Airbnb may be using opaque automated decision-making processes to assess them in secret.

"People use Airbnb to find a place to stay. The last thing they expect is that the company is secretly collecting their personal data and judging whether or not they are a good person. There is a worrying lack of transparency from Airbnb when it comes to the potentially harmful and invasive practices they are using to determine who can use their platform," says Bower. 

"Right now, people are being banned from Airbnb without even knowing what they did wrong, and with no way to challenge the decision or correct the record. This is extremely concerning."

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One Airbnb user CHOICE spoke to, Renae, described herself and her husband as "clean, boring people" with nothing but good reviews from Airbnb hosts. Despite this, she found herself banned from the site with no explanation. Her query to the company resulted in a brief email that gave no information on why she had been removed from the platform. 

"This behaviour from Airbnb is not good enough. Airbnb has a duty to inform Australian customers about how their data is being gathered and used. Instead, Airbnb is potentially using an algorithm to ban people from the platform and then failing to provide any kind of information about exactly what that algorithm has found and why users have been removed from the platform," says Bower. 

"Airbnb's behaviour highlights a significant regulatory gap which allows companies to collect and use data without any transparency or accountability. The Federal Government needs to strengthen protections against companies collecting, storing and using sensitive personal data like this. It goes beyond privacy and touches on every aspect of our lives."

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Media contact: Katelyn Cameron, 0430 172 669,

Editor's notes: 

CHOICE sent a detailed list of questions relating to this issue to Airbnb Australia and did not receive a meaningful response that addressed any of the substantive issues raised. 

The company refused to confirm or deny the use of the algorithm in Australia, despite their own privacy policy explicitly saying a program of this kind may be used.