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This article was translated from our Spanish edition using AI technologies. Errors can occur due to this process.
A few days ago it became known that the short-term rental platform Airbnb was keeping secret a terrible crime that was committed in one of its properties. However, the case is nowhere near the only or the worst that the company has faced.
Thanks to an investigation by Bloomberg, it is now known that Airbnb has an "elite secret team" that act immediately to hide the crimes that are occurring in the properties offered by the platform. The way he works includes spending millions of dollars to compensate victims and avoid a reputational crisis.
Based in San Francisco, California, the company has had a dedicated security department that handles incidents for years. The aim is to prevent this from being made public and to release Airbnb from any responsibility for the events.
According to the media, the company spends an average of $ 50 million annually in compensation for customers who have been victims of crime.
How does Airbnb's elite security team work?
In the early days, Airbnb founders Brian Chesky, Joe Gebbia and Nate Blecharczyk were personally entrusted with dealing with the crisis. However, as the company grew, so did the number of incidents, and a decision was made to hire specialist claims handling personnel.
The elite security department, known internally as the "Black Box" for its secrecy, consists of around 100 agents located in various cities around the world. Many of them have completed military and rescue service training or are former members of high-level security forces.
The investigation shows that as soon as a criminal incident occurs in a shelter, the nearest agent (s) mobilizes to contact the victim immediately. They are responsible for the moral support of those affected and for all facilities for their care and support.
This includes accommodation in luxury hotels, assuming medical costs, paying for transport back to their hometown and providing hefty financial or monetary compensation, such as paid travel around the world.
#AmericanAirlines The airline will reportedly be cutting between 50 and 80 daily flights well into the summer. https://t.co/IOtwADsjQB
– Entrepreneur in Spanish (@SoyEntrepreneur) June 21, 2021
The crisis team is also responsible for hiring specialist teams to clean the blood on walls, carpets and furniture, contractors to repair property damage such as bullet holes, and human remains disposal services.
According to informants who asked for anonymity, the work is very stressful because it has to balance the interests of the company, the hosts and the guests. Therefore, they have special rooms with a relaxed atmosphere to answer the most annoying calls. "I've had situations where I had to hang up the phone and cry," recalls a former agent. "That's all you can do."
The ex-gamers surveyed say that most of them end up suffering from some sort of indirect trauma or post-traumatic stress.
What are the agreements between Airbnb and crime victims in their properties?
The agents are empowered to spend whatever is necessary and their motto is to come to an agreement with the victim as soon as possible.
As of 2017, sources said every agreement contained a nondisclosure clause that prevented the victim from talking about the case, asking for more money, or suing the company. However, pressure from moves like #MeeToo forced Airbnb to change those terms.
Now the agreements stipulate that both tenants and hosts must stop discussing the terms of the agreement and take legal action against the company as the deal is an admission of misconduct.
It also includes a confidentiality clause in case the incident reaches the judicial authorities. That is, while they can (and should) report the crime, they should not blame or involve the platform, but rather the person who committed the crime directly.
What types of crimes have happened in Airbnb accommodations?
Eight former damage control team members and 45 other Airbnb employees (current and past) exposed all sorts of terrifying cases to Bloomberg. Stories range from physical assault, robbery and vandalism to sexual assault, rape and the finding of dismembered bodies.
In 2011, Airbnb faced its first major serious security crisis. A San Francisco hostess blogged about her home being ransacked and destroyed by tenants. The owner denounced that the company was not giving her any assistance and only asked her to erase the story as this could harm another round of funding. When the case went viral on social media, Airbnb founder and CEO Brian Chesky publicly apologized and promised to compensate her with $ 1 million.
The stories tell of hosts throwing suitcases out of the windows, cameras hidden in rooms, and people hiding in closets or fleeing secluded huts after being attacked by hosts.
#Airbnb On New Years Eve 2015, a young woman stayed at an Airbnb in New York, unaware that she was going to be the victim of a crime and the company was trying to keep it a secret. https://t.co/58wzbffCmd
– Entrepreneur in Spanish (@SoyEntrepreneur) June 18, 2021
In October 2011, an Airbnb rental company in Barcelona drunk and raped two American visitors. When the girls went to the police the next morning, the attacker threatened to upload videos of the attack on the Internet. Local authorities ransacked the apartment and found hundreds of photos reporting other attacks. The man was sentenced to 12 years in prison while the young woman received financial compensation, the amount of which is still unknown.
There is also the unfortunate case of a guest found naked in bed with the host's 7-year-old daughter.
So far, only one case against Airbnb has reached the US court. It's about a tenant who accuses the host of locking her in a bathroom and masturbating in front of her. His lawyer sued the company in court for failing to meet its obligation to protect its users. In the end, the victim accepted financial compensation in exchange for dropping the lawsuit.
You saw it coming
Airbnb was founded in 2008 and quickly established itself in the lodging sector, but its security policies have since been questioned.
One of the first investors they could reach was Chris Sacca, a Silicon Valley venture investor who invested capital in giants like Instagram, Twitter and Uber. After the founders pitch, he gave them a warning that now sounds like premonition.
“Guys, that's super dangerous. Someone is raped or killed and their hands are stained with blood, ”Sacca said bluntly, not investing in the platform.
After that first crisis in 2011, the company created 24-hour customer service and formed the elite security team.
Airbnb found that less than 0.1% of rental homes reported security issues. However, considering that more than 200 million reservations are made through the platform each year, that percentage actually represents a high number of cases. Only the most serious are passed on to the internal security team.
Many of the crimes that go on with Airbnb rentals could have happened elsewhere. With that in mind, the platform understands that just like nightclubs cannot stop sexual assault and hotels cannot stop human trafficking, the company cannot stop some people from using Airbnb to commit crimes.
"You are dealing with real people in real people's homes," Tara Bunch, Airbnb's director of global operations, told Bloomberg. "People are inherently unpredictable and, however we try, sometimes really bad things happen."
“We know that not everything can be stopped,” adds the manager, but in the end it all depends on how the company reacts to the unexpected.
“We go the extra mile to ensure that everyone concerned is served on our platform,” says Bunch. "We don't really care about the branding and image components."