Vacation rental giant Airbnb has recently introduced a new artificial intelligence (AI) powered software system to weed out potential party throwers and stop them from making a booking.
Airbnb renting is one of the best side hustles around. However, the risks of your home getting trashed by folks getting trashed has emerged as a real concern in recent years. The scenario has played out all too often in the news, with mass gatherings and raucous parties happening in the homes of unassuming Airbnb hosts all around the world, some of who have been left with hundreds or thousands of dollars worth of damage.
This problem was exacerbated during the pandemic when the usual watering holes that allowed youngsters to let off steam were closed, so house parties became the natural way to bridge the gap.
Airbnb's Party Ban Gets High-Tech
In 2020, Airbnb announced a global ban on organized parties and open-invite gatherings, led by Naba Banerjee, head of safety and trust at Airbnb. Since then, they've reported a 55% reduction in reported parties globally.
Now Airbnb is going one step further. With its reputation as a party-pooper at the point of no return, it is implementing AI in a bid to restore trust in its platform among hosts.
🔎 Want to browse the web privately? 🌎 Or appear as if you're in another country?
Get a huge 86% off Surfshark with this Tech.co Black Friday offer.
Artificial intelligence lends itself to this kind of task very well, with its ability to process large quantities of data and profile users based on a mixture of their characteristics and their platform usage.
How Does AI Vetting Actually Work?
The AI models look at hundreds of factors, including the reservation’s closeness to the user’s birthday, the user’s age, length of stay, the listing’s proximity to where the user is based, weekend vs. weekday, and whether the listing is in a popular location or during a public holiday.
The software works on a system of probability, “if someone is booking a room during New Year's Eve for one night only, and they are from the same city as the host, that's likely to be a party,” says Naba Banerjee, the person in charge of the anti-party strategy at Airbnb in a BBC report.
Ms Banerjee adds that if the AI deems that the risk of a party booking is too high, it will prevent the booking, or instead guide the person to the website of one of its partner hotel companies. She says it is an issue of trust, the company wants to reassure people that they are doing everything they can to stop people breaking this rule.
Will AI Unfairly Profile Younger Renters?
Since the worldwide launch of Banerjee’s party crackdown initiative in May, the company reports that more than 320,000 guests have been blocked or redirected from booking attempts. Its rental terms now include restrictions on under 25s renting, which another factor the AI algorithm will consider in making its decisions.
As with all AI-powered software, from AI website builders to AI resume builders, it should only get better over time. The more data it processes, the more it will learn, and theoretically the better it will get at detecting the people most likely to throw a party.
However, Edward McFowland III, assistant professor of technology and operating management at Harvard Business School, raised the concern that under 25s are at risk of getting shut out of the platform when they need to find a bed for the night. While he is in favor of the benefits, he explained that even a perfectly calibrated AI model can create false negatives.
“Having that layer of AI can help ease the friction on both sides, for both business and consumer,” McFowland told the BBC. “[But] AI technology is still very hard to get right, all the time.”
Ultimately, Airbnb appears to have taken the stance that protecting its hosts is a priority, to increase the inventory on its platform, giving the potential guests more choice for places to stay. This approach seems to be working as the company announced revenue of $2.5 billion in its year-on-year Q2 revenue report, an 18% increase year-over-year indicating travel is on the rise again.