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Airbnb May Have Deleted NYC Listings to Bolster Its Image

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Back in November, in an attempt to prove that it's okay with transparency (and that its users are all above board, despite evidence/criticism to the contrary), Airbnb released a year's worth of data that it had accrued on listings in New York City. The data revealed many things about NYC hosts—including that many of them are operating illegal listings—but a team of independent researchers is now alleging that those facts weren't entirely accurate. The website Inside Airbnb (founded by Murray Cox) released a report alleging that Airbnb tampered with the data that was made publicly available, deleting as many as 1,000 listings in an attempt to "paint a misleading picture" of its NYC operations.

The report, compiled by Cox and tech writer Tom Slee, is compiled from two different sats of data using Airbnb listings going as far back as 2013. By doing so, they were able to compare the information that Airbnb made available to journalists in November to the site's data on a typical day/week/month, and the results were fairly damning. According to the report, "Airbnb ensured a favorable picture by carrying out a one-time targeted purge of over 1,000 listings," and used the days immediately following that purge as representative of its operations. The listings that were deleted were for "entire home" rentals, which have been targeted by critics as being the biggest source of illegal activity on the site.

The report goes on:

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. Data from Miami and Los Angeles listings is included to show that those cities have had no blips in the number of listings included on the site for a similar period of time.

Cox and Slee also poked holes in other data that Airbnb made available, including the statistic that "95% of our entire home hosts share only one listing"; according to their findings, that was true for "less than two weeks of the year." They allege that this was all done in order to make the company's dealings look better to journalists, who were presented with a very specific data set to analyze.

In a statement provided to the New York Times, Airbnb spokesman Nick Papas said, "Airbnb is an open people-to-people platform where listings come on and go off throughout the year." But the New York state attorney general's office is less than enthused: Matt Mittenthal, a spokesman for the office, told the Times that if the data is correct, it shows that "Airbnb continues to show a blatant disregard for New York laws designed to protect the rights of tenants and prevent the proliferation of illegal hotels."

There's plenty more in Cox and Slee's report, which you can read on Inside Airbnb (warning: PDF). They conclude, "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." (Ouch.)
· How Airbnb's Data hid the Facts in New York City [Inside Airbnb]
· Airbnb Purged New York Listings to Create a Rosier Portrait, Report Says [NYT]
· More Than Half of NYC's Airbnb Listings Could Be Illegal [Curbed]
· Airbnb Data Reveals Which Hosts In NYC Earn the Most [Curbed]