Airbnb Plans Damage Control at DNC

San Francisco is well-represented at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, with Mayor Ed Lee speaking this morning and Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a former city mayor, also expected to make an appearance this week. It’s normal for high-profile party elites like those two to show up, but what about a business like Airbnb?

Everyone’s favorite “sharing” economy whipping post has big plans for the DNC, and it appears they have nothing to do with Russia or Debbie Wasserman Schultz. Airbnb says it’s planning to release polling data Tuesday that somehow links this year’s presidential race to the sharing economy (again), followed up by an event honoring the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP), which at the 1964 convention challenged that state’s delegation as being elected in a segregated process.

The first part isn’t actually all that interesting, if history is any indication. In April, Airbnb released polling data that asked people which candidate would make the best houseguest (something we wish this was a joke, too). Hillary Clinton won with 24 percent.

But the event honoring the MFDP is interesting, as it would appear to be an attempt by Airbnb to counter its growing image as a platform not just for hotel operators hosts to rent out rooms, but as yet another means for people to profile each other based on race.

The company already made a big move last week to counter that image, hiring former Attorney General Eric Holder to help craft an anti-discrimination policy. That story pointed out a Harvard Business School study released in January that showed Airbnb guests with “distinctively African-American names” are more likely to be rejected than people with “distinctively white names.” The issue gained widespread attention back in October with one little tweet.

Of course, Airbnb has other intentions at this week’s convention. It needs to do a fair bit of lawmaker lobbying since its business model creates a lot of problems in various cities. It’s already suing San Francisco over illegal listings, nor is it particular happy about New York’s recent law targeting full home rentals, either. 

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