How Airbnb data hid the facts in New York City

NB: This is a report by Murray Cox, Founder of Inside Airbnb and Tom Slee, Author of “What’s Yours is Mine”

As part of its recent transparency initiative, Airbnb made public a snapshot of its New York City business as of November 17, 2015. The company used the snapshot to paint a 1 picture of its business, claiming that “95% of our entire home hosts share only one listing”, and forecasting that the revenue earned by hosts with three or more listings will 2 fall from 25% of the total to 7% for 2015-2016.

This report shows that the snapshot was photoshopped. In the days leading up to November 17, Airbnb ensured a favorable picture by carrying out a one-time targeted purge of over 1,000 listings. The company then misrepresented November 17 as a typical day in the company’s operations.

The graph on the front page is a centerpiece of the report. It shows that any decrease in listings belonging to multiple-listing hosts can be attributed to a single event, immediately before November 17, when such listings plummeted from 19% to 10% of the total.

This report also shows that the November purge is not part of Airbnb’s regular enforcement activities: no similar intervention took place on the owners of multiple “Private room” listings in New York, and data from other major markets in North America and elsewhere show no remotely comparable intervention. The report shows that the purge was limited to the exact data set that Airbnb presented to the public, and on which it based the claims it made to major news outlets.

The intervention was so specific, and the timing so close to the date of the New York City snapshot, that the conclusion is inescapable: Airbnb removed listings from its site so that its data set would paint a more attractive picture of its business, to better influence media and public opinion. It was a cover-up, not a move to transparency.

In presenting the data, Airbnb hid the purge of unwanted listings by claiming that its forecasts were based on “historical trends”. This data manipulation by Airbnb, in pursuit of its public relations goals and as part of its resistance to regulation, shows that the company has no commitment to transparency.

An “open and transparent company” does not sweep part of its business under the carpet before letting outsiders look around; a company that truly co-operates with cities would be open about the changes on its platform.

Click here to see the full report