Chances are that those of you reading this are not Airbnb hosts in the state of New York, but those who are should be aware that their data is on its way to the New York Attorney General's office. It's anonymised data, so personally identifiable data like names and addresses have been removed. Still, the issue about whether not not Airbnb is legal is getting heated.
While the legality of the service is still dubious under current UK law, Airbnb is indeed illegal in the state of New York. Or at least, several aspects of how the business works, namely how it doesn't collect hotel tax, is illegal, and authorities are cracking down. However, surely realising how Airbnb represents innovation in the industry, the New York Attorney General probably isn't trying to shut them down altogether. In Airbnb's own words:
The Attorney General's Office will have one year to review the anonymised data and receive information from us about individual hosts who may be subject to further investigation. We believe the Attorney General's Office is focused on large corporate property managers and hosts who take apartments off the market and disrupt communities. We have already removed more than 2,000 listings in New York and believe that many of the hosts the Attorney General is concerned about are no longer a part of Airbnb.
Similarly, the New York Attorney General's Office said in a statement that they're working with Airbnb on "an agreement that appropriately balances Attorney General Schneiderman's commitment to protecting New York's residents and tourists from illegal hotels with Airbnb's concerns about the privacy of thousands of other hosts." In other words, they want to crack down on the creeps, not throw people in jail for renting out their bedrooms for the weekend.
So while it seems upsetting for a private website to surrender a bunch of user data to a government body, even if it's anonymous data, it also seems like this is in everybody's best interest. Local and state governments around the US are struggling with how to regulate services like Airbnb, which benefit many people but skirt around regulations. In San Francisco, for instance, Airbnb recently agreed to charge a 14 per cent hotel tax, a source of revenue that many cities feel like they're being denied because of the service. Other regulations are in place for people's safety.
But what about regulation in the UK you might say? Well Airbnb isn't as big a company here compared to the US, but with what's going on stateside it won't be long before it becomes a topic of discussion over here.
It'll take some time to see how this all shakes out—and how much it affects Airbnb. It also remains to be seen if Airbnb can figure out what kind of company it wants to be in the long run. [Airbnb via TechCrunch]