AIRBNB – THE BAD & THE UGLY
The NSW Fair Trading Complaint Register has ‘request for refunds’ as the main source of dissatisfaction for those using the Airbnb platform. This adds weight to reports such as that which appeared two days ago in a US newspaper - I Accidentally Uncovered a Nationwide Scam on Airbnb – and the claim of how easy it is to scam users of the platform. The author of the report also writes how Airbnb’s Terms and Conditions favour a would-be scammer and place the onus on clients “who have just parachuted into an unfamiliar locale with their luggage and have nowhere else to stay that night”. On Twitter today, the journalist advises that the FBI has contacted her to discuss the scam, yet she still hasn’t “been able to have a meaningful conversation with a human being at Airbnb…”
Here, Business Insider wrote yesterday of Facebook’s closure of a West Australian Airbnb ‘Hosts’ private page where participants gossiped about guests and shared lewd, personal information. This article was shared on another Airbnb Group Facebook page, immediately after another landlord complained: “…Chinese guests leave today and oh man the place stinks so bad…” And yet another Airbnb landlord recounts a conversation had by her clients – a family of two adults and two children - at her Airbnb property, all picked up by a hidden ‘security camera’. Airbnb and Client Privacy = Zero.
Where Airbnb operators fall foul of the Company’s ratings/review system, a well known Sydney landlord recommends via Facebook to “make a duplicate listing of your current listing under a brand new profile with a different email, bank account and slightly different property name. Then close down the old profile”. Her advice appears eerily similar to that which appeared to be the formula deployed in the ‘Nationwide Scam’ mentioned above.
Back in January, a seemingly false Airbnb listing in Sydney gave the appearance of facilitating money laundering. This was reported to the NSW Cyber Crime Unit. The Unit promptly acknowledged the report and passed it to the NSW Fraud Squad. An unidentified staffer at the Fraud Squad acknowledged the information, at the same time stating that he had used Airbnb in countries ‘around the world and it works for him’. Despite guaranteeing to send written acknowledgement that same day, nothing further was heard or received from our Fraud Squad colleague. After two+ years, the Airbnb listing in question has now quietly disappeared.
Facebook has been repeatedly notified of an account that targets one NSW anti-short-term rental community activist. Said unidentified Facebook operator currently has 45 fans plus 1 unnamed ‘follower’ – that ‘follower’ is Airbnb’s Brent Thomas. There has been no acknowledgement from Facebook of the claimed abuse or action taken to close down the offending account.
Back in July, Airbnb’s former Country Manager and Director Aus/NZ Sam McDonagh quit the Organisation. McDonagh has been replaced by Derek Nolan, who in a newspaper article related to the Tasmanian Government’s report on short-term rentals, bleats out Airbnb’s mantra: “The report's recommendation that councils set their own rules on short-stay properties would result in a complicated mess of red tape and would likely damage the tourism sector”. And in response to the ever increasing loss of housing to holiday rentals, the Tweed Daily also printed Airbnb’s stance that “Tweed is better off without red-tape”.
In other jurisdictions Unions representing Accommodation and Hospitality Industry Workers would be leading the battle against the likes of Airbnb, Expedia and Stayz. Not so here in Australia. Airbnb actively partners with and recruits from Unions such as United Voice and Political Consultancy Strategists: Airbnb’s new recruit Derek Nolan is the latest example. Lord, he also has Council experience in Planning and Zoning.
The fatigue being experienced by small, accredited accommodation providers and those living in residential suburbs and strata is palpable. The City of Sydney for one continues to inspect licensed B&Bs to ensure compliance with legislation, yet steadfastly fails to respond to residents’ complaints over illegal short-term rentals and the very public listing of what appear to be thousands upon thousands of such unlawful properties.
Researchers estimate that there are 1.1m victims of human trafficking across Europe. According to the UN almost one-third of human trafficking victims globally are children. Cases of forced criminality, prostitution and labour are an acknowledged major issue for the Hospitality Industry, as it is thought that more than 93,000 sex slaves and 4,500 labour slaves are exploited each year. Airbnb’s position is that it has “no control over the conduct of hosts and disclaims all liability”. Hosts bear responsibility for abiding by the laws in their own countries. But independent research into Airbnb has found that, in practice, the question of responsibility goes far beyond who is legally liable.
With his Master’s degree in International Human Rights Law, here is a question for Airbnb’s newest Australian hack, Derek Nolan: Airbnb pays up front for major advertising in our NSW and National newspapers. At the same time, what exactly is Airbnb doing about these serious human rights abuses plus the use of Airbnb rentals for major drug operations?