The Airbnb logo is seen on a little mini pyramid under the glass Pyramid of the Louvre museum in Paris, France, March 12, 2019.
Charles Platiau | Reuters
Come Spring 2023, Airbnb will require all users booking reservations on its platform to verify their identity to book a reservation, further expanding a program that asks for credentials like a photo of a valid government-issued ID or a legal name and address.
Tara Bunch, global head of operations at Airbnb, said that while 80% of the rental platform’s bookings already feature identity verification as something hosts can request, the company is taking this additional step.
“It’s not so much that people that were booking listings were representing themselves as not being who they are,” Bunch said. “When you take away the anonymity of not being identify verified, I think it opens up the perception that people could behave badly and not be held accountable, and by definition, tends to cause people to behave a little bit better because they know they will be held accountable for bad actions.”
The move puts Airbnb more in line with traditional hotels, where front desk workers request to see some form of identification from a guest prior to check-in. Most other vacation rental platforms, like Expedia Group‘s Vrbo, don’t require identification verification but do allow guests or hosts on the platform to submit their information.
Airbnb has made efforts in the past to curb bad behavior. Amid the Covid-19 outbreak, the company placed a temporary ban on house parties citing health concerns. It made that ban permanent in June, as well as banning party-house-type situations, where people would book large houses for a single night. It also rolled out several enhanced safety features following a shooting that killed five people at one of its bookings in 2019.
Bunch said as the company looked to implement these features, it leaned on machine learning to help identify potential issues. In the case of stopping house parties, Airbnb looked at things like the age of the individual booker and how long they’ve been on the platform, as well as things like how far away they lived from a large home they were looking to book, or if there were multiple efforts to book the same property by people in close geographic regions. As a result, Airbnb was able to further reduce parties on the platform by 35% in Australia, where it tested some of these features.
While infrequent, Bunch said there have been examples of people purposely using false identities to dupe other users or defraud them. Bunch noted that there have been instances of financial fraud schemes where unverified users have looked to use stolen credit cards via fake identities, or even looked to move money between fictional guest and host combos. “An innocent guest can get caught up in that, so we felt that taking that completely out of the system, preventing any sort of financial fraud or being able to take advantage of someone with say a fake identity was really important,” she said.
In collecting this data, Airbnb utilizes a variety of third-party platforms, databases, and verification systems to confirm that someone is truly who are saying they are as well as doing other background checks, Bunch said, adding that there are also manual reviews when needed. That has put more emphasis on Airbnb’s internal data security, and Bunch said all of these points of ID verification from the platform are closely monitored by the company’s chief privacy officer and his team, as well as for compliance with local and national data privacy regulations.
“Guests and hosts come to Airbnb because we’re a trusted brand and they’re trusting us to keep their property safe and keep them safe, and to have a great experience in a beautiful location with a beautiful listing,” she said. “At the end of the day, the way we’re going to retain and attract guests and hosts and grow our platform is creating that level of trust within our community and being the place that people know they can come to book an experience or vacation and it is worry free.”