Friday, 17 July 2015

Airbnb’s Kindness Campaign Overlooks Unkind Privacy Policy

Airbnb, Brian Chesky, Mankind, kindness, privacy policyGo look through their windows so you can understand their views.
Sit at their tables so you can share their tastes.
Sleep in their beds so you may know their dreams.

Airbnb’s recent ad campaign purports to explore the kindness of strangers but comes across as a little, well, unsettling.

Airbnb has defended its campaign: “Kindness is the foundation of our entire community—Airbnb hosts aren’t just sharing their homes, they’re sharing part of themselves. When guests open their doors, they’re opening their hearts and minds as well.”

In the words of Airbnb co-founder Brian Chesky, “The breakthrough of Airbnb is that it does more than give you a place to sleep—it changes the way you experience the world because when we trust in the kindness of our fellow man, we discover that the world isn’t such a scary place after all.”

All this talk of kindness is enough to make you forget that Airbnb is also a successful venture capital-backed startup, valued at $25.5 billion and third to Uber and China’s Xiaomi Corp. Its ability to raise $1.5 billion in a private funding round last month was a feat that has been matched only by Uber, China’s Alibaba, and Facebook.

Airbnb’s website boasts more than 35 million guests and 1.2 million listings in more than 34,000 cities and 190 countries worldwide. Airbnb is big and is only expected to get bigger, which is perhaps why the company has chosen to focus on kindness rather than the implications of having a significant portion of the world’s population on its platform.

Nearly simultaneous with the kindness campaign, Airbnb released updated versions of its Terms of Service and Privacy Policy earlier this month, which went into effect for new users July 6 and will go into effect for existing users on August 6.

The Privacy Policy includes few changes and is hardly unique, but is a good reminder of how not private data can be when engaging with a global platform. Of note:

Airbnb collects and analyzes your information whether you are logged in or not: “Airbnb uses cookies and other similar technologies, such as mobile application identifiers, on the Platform. We may also allow our business partners to use their cookies and other tracking technologies on the Platform. As a result, when you access or use the Platform, you will provide or make available certain information to us and to our business partners. While you may disable the usage of cookies through your browser settings, we do not change our practices in response to a "Do Not Track" signal in the HTTP header from your browser or mobile application.”

“By using the Platform, you consent that Airbnb, in its sole discretion, may, either directly or through third party companies and individuals we engage to provide services to us, review, scan, analyze, and store your communications, whether done manually or through automated means.”

“We may also receive, store and process Log Data, which is information that is automatically recorded by our servers whenever you access or use the Platform, regardless of whether you are registered with Airbnb or logged in to your Airbnb account, such as your IP Address, the date and time you access or use the Platform, the hardware and software you are using, referring and exit pages and URLs, the number of clicks, pages viewed and the order of those pages, and the amount of time spent on particular pages.”

Facebook and Google are likely sharing and collecting your information as well:  We receive, store and process information that you make available to us when accessing or using our Platform and Services. Examples include when you link your account on a third party site (e.g. Facebook) to your Airbnb account, in which case we will obtain the Personal Information that you have provided to the third party site, to the extent allowed by your settings with the third party site and authorized by you.”

“Some portions of the Platform implement Google Maps/Earth mapping services, including Google Maps API(s). Your use of Google Maps/Earth is subject to Google's terms of use and Google's privacy policy, as may be amended by Google from time to time.”

Airbnb is prepared to share your information with the government: “We will use commercially reasonable efforts to notify users about law enforcement requests for their data unless providing notice is prohibited by the legal process itself, by court order we receive, or by applicable law; or based on information supplied by law enforcement, we, in our sole discretion, believe: (a) that providing notice could create a risk of injury or death to an individual or group of individuals, (b) that the case involves potential harm to minors, or (c) that harm or fraud could be directed to Airbnb, its Members, the Platform, or Services.”

Your information is Airbnb’s asset to sell: “If Airbnb undertakes or is involved in any merger, acquisition, reorganization, sale of assets or bankruptcy or insolvency event, then we may sell, transfer or share some or all of our assets, including your Personal Information. In this event, we will notify you before your Personal Information is transferred and becomes subject to a different privacy policy.”

Airbnb claims no responsibility for your privacy: “No method of transmission over the Internet, and no method of storing electronic information, can be 100% secure. So, we cannot guarantee the absolute security of your transmissions to us and of your Personal Information that we store.”

What is most significant about Airbnb’s Privacy Policy is how commonplace it has become. The websites users around the globe have come to rely upon for everyday life are collecting, analyzing, sharing and selling our Personal Information—and making a tremendous profit in the process. If Airbnb’s kindness campaign comes across as a bit unsettling, it’s because we—the data subjects—know just what it feels like to have our windows looked through, our tables sat at and our beds slept in. Kindness, to us, is the opportunity to choose whom we invite into our lives.

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