Almost 2 weeks now since I asked the questions below, as part of the thread posted by Laura, on the subject of Review Updates Inspired By Community Centre Hosts. Despite being told last Friday that a response was imminent, I've still received no answers. These are important, pertinent questions that have major implications for every host on the platform (particularly small, independent hosts, for whom Laura has specific responsibility), so I'll just have to keep re-posting until a response is forthcoming...
And finally, on behalf of every host who has been, is being, or ever will be either shafted by the broken Airbnb review system, or wiped out by rogue hosts in their markets (or both), my queries to @Laura and @Airbnb are as follows..
1) What specific steps, if any, have Airbnb taken to address the chronic issue of fake reviews/false profiles/fraudulent hosts on the platform?
2) As a result of any successful actions already taken in this regard, please share exactly how many "bad actors" have been "weeded out" since the "improved and enhanced" policies were implemented, in what markets they were most active/prevalent, and how they were dealt with? (Suspension/Delisting/Other?)
3) Please clarify whether there would be any circumstances - ever - under which Airbnb would knowingly permit a "host"/account to remain active on the platform, that had fake reviews and false profiles associated with it.
4. If "Yes" to Q3, please state the exact circumstances under which this would be permitted, and why?
5. Please state whether there are any circumstances - ever - under which Airbnb would temporarily remove a "host" that had been reported to them for fraudulent activity, delete false reviews from fake profiles on the account, and reinstate the "host" on the platform with a clean, sanitised profile, displaying only the genuine past reviews from previous guests?
And if "Yes", please clarify the exact circumstances under which that could be permitted to happen.
This very serious issue has been extensively reported in the global media, primarily as a result of Allie Conti's viral Vice article of Oct 31, in which she herself was scammed by a fraudulent host on the Airbnb platform, and was also the subject of two major investigations by CBC Canada earlier last year. More recently, it's also been covered in the Vice follow-up investigation of January 31.
As this is an issue that ultimately affects the reputations of all Airbnb hosts, and therefore our ability to do business, we have a right to know what measures - if any - Airbnb is taking to curb these scammers, and halt their fraudulent practices.
I Accidentally Uncovered A Nationwide Scam On Airbnb
Here Are The Most Common Airbnb Scams Worldwide
Airbnb Quietly Shut Down Top Host Amid Scathing Reviews, But Hundreds Of Guests Were Left To Stay With Him
And the latest scamming article, just published..
I Stumbled Across A Huge Airbnb Scam That's Taking Over London
"On Airbnb, it turns out, scams aren’t just the preserve of lone chancers. As the short-term rental goldrush gathers pace, Airbnb empires are being rapidly scaled and monetised, with professional operators creating scores of fake accounts, fake listings and fake reviews to run rings around Airbnb, local law enforcement and the guests who place their trust in the platform. Reviews from guests paint a grim picture of people who have been tricked into staying in accommodation with blocked drains, broken fixtures and fittings, filthy floors, dirty bed linen – or, in some cases, accommodation that they simply did not book"
Thanks for your questions here (and in the other thread) and for sharing your personal feelings.
So the short answer is yes, a lot of work is going on within Airbnb to prevent any kind of activity that impacts the integrity of our community.
We have dedicated teams who are reviewing and building on the systems and processes we have, to meet an ever changing world.
Specifically with reviews, at the end of 2019, we rolled out several changes to the review policy. These are aimed at addressing Irrelevant and Biased reviews, which includes information known to be untrue or out of the control of the host. By nature, reviews are subjective, so this is of course a tricky policy to get right, but we are already seeing it having a significant impact.
We are also closely monitoring for fake reviews across Airbnb and educating guests and hosts where necessary. Any repeated breach may lead to suspension or even removal from the site, see Review Policy for more details.
If we find a fake account, we remove it from the platform. As you know, trust is a huge part of our community and so a large amount of work we are doing is about making sure that we can trust the things we rely on; whether that's the host/listing we are seeing, the guests we are talking to or the reviews we are reading. On top of changing policies, we have and are continuing to build technology and AI specifically to enhance our present systems and make our site as safe as possible. As you can imagine, we want to make sure these do their job and so we cannot provide any more specifics to prevent anyone breaching these. Of course, if you are concerned about a fake account, please do contact us, to investigate further.
I think it's important that we are as transparent as we can be with our community of hosts and guests, on the measures we have in place and are building on, to make sure you and other community members feel comfortable using Airbnb.
I hope this helps to answer your questions.
@Lizzie "These are aimed at addressing Irrelevant and Biased reviews, which includes information known to be untrue or out of the control of the host. By nature, reviews are subjective, so this is of course a tricky policy to get right, but we are already seeing it having a significant impact. "
Hosts and guests are still being sent prompts to review, for a stay that was cancelled before check-in. How can a review possibly be relevant or honest when the guest never stayed? Why are guests and hosts asked to rate things like cleanliness and following house rules when the guest never stepped foot in the unit? If hosts and guests do review under these circumstances, the reviews are obviously completely untrue. Why does this absurd review policy still exist, when hosts have been pointing out how insane it is for years now? Hosts have had their ratings tanked and lost long-standing Superhost status by getting a 1* review from a guest who never arrived, out of retaliation for the host not agreeing to a refund for their last-minute cancellation. This is so WRONG. And so easy to fix.
It's a very good point and I can understand why you would question this, I certainly would.
I think it's important to remember that even before check-in the guest/host has still had some kind of experience/interaction with each other, perhaps through messaging, the booking experience or whatever, and so this is why the guest/host is entitled to write a review. I imagine that the review prompts are also automatically sent from the system and actually even if the booking has been cancelled before check-in, there may be a number of different reasons for this.
I know you mention that the guest is still then able to leave a review on the things like the cleanliness of the listing etc which is not going to be accurate if they haven't stayed. I totally agree and this is exactly why the change in the policy has been brought in to help in these type of situations and remove irrelevant reviews where it is clearly untrue.
If you have experienced a situation like this, I would recommend contacting our Support Team and they can look into it for you.
The review system is a complex beast, but changes are being made and more is to come (and I am as eager as you). :)
Hi @Lizzie , and thank you for getting back to me. I appreciate it. Thank you for the PM also- I'll definitely respond in the morning 😉
Firstly, can I just ask, please - is this the actual official company response to my questions that I requested, and if so, in the interests of transparency - from what specific department within Airbnb did it originate, and who is the person with responsibility for signing off on these answers being the official company stance? I did respectfully request that the answers be rubberstamped by someone in high authority within the company, if at all possible.
NB - I'm tagging you, Lizzie because you posted this, but as always, my responses are addressing @Airbnb, and not you personally.
These answers, of course, are as vague and non-committal as I expected them to be - classic opaque Airbnb-speak obfuscation, that cleverly neglects to provide straight direct responses to my queries, but instead, neatly side-steps them.
I'll be needing clarification on a couple of points please, and I'd very much appreciate if these answers could also be rubber-stamped by someone with high authority in the company, who will stand behind them, and take responsibility for their content.
My Original Question
Q.3) Please clarify whether there would be any circumstances - ever - under which Airbnb would knowingly permit a "host"/account to remain active on the platform, that had fake reviews and false profiles associated with it.
"If we find a fake account, we remove it from the platform"
Oddly - and worryingly - no mention of an automatic ban for anyone caught engaging in this practice. So, just to be crystal clear - let's break this down..
New Q1) Is Airbnb actually saying here, that if a host has been reported to you - who you now know to be actively using fake accounts to post false reviews on their profiles - that there are , in fact, certain instances in which you will remove the fake accounts, but will knowingly allow the host responsible for those fake accounts/false profiles - who has now been proven beyond doubt to be engaging on fraudulent activity - to remain active on your platform?
If "Yes" - please clarify exactly what those instances could possibly be?
My Original Question
5) Please state whether there are any circumstances - ever - under which Airbnb would temporarily remove a "host" that had been reported to them for fraudulent activity, delete false reviews from fake profiles on the account, and reinstate the "host" on the platform with a clean, sanitised profile, displaying only the genuine past reviews from previous guests?
We are closely monitoring for fake reviews and EDUCATING hosts where necessary (emphasis mine - and again, no mention of an automatic or immediate ban)
New Q2) So is the answer to my question 5, actually a simple "Yes - there are, in fact, times when hosts are reported to us for having fake accounts and false reviews on their profiles, and we temporarily suspend the host account, delete the false reviews and fake accounts associated with it, "educate" the offending host, and reinstate them with a squeaky clean profile?
And if "Yes", do please share with us the exact circumstances under which - and why - that would ever be permitted to happen?
Because if that is the case, then to most right-minded people, that would come across as if Airbnb is actively enabling, facilitating, supporting and colluding in fraudulent activity on their own platform. And that really wouldn't be good - or lawful - now, would it?
Given the highly sensitive, hot-topic nature of this particular topic and its current prevalence in the global media, I'd appreciate your response to my new questions as a matter of urgency please, rather than being left hanging for the 2+ weeks it took to answer my previous questions.
@Lizzie Thanks for your response. But the policy to remove irrelevant reviews isn't the correct solution to this. Yes, a host and guest could rate each other on communication even if the guest never arrived. But that is the ONLY thing they could honestly rate each other on. So all those other ratings are automatically irrelevant, yet you can't skip over any of the ratings and still move forward on the review, they HAVE to be filled out.
So EVERY review that is written on a booking that never resulted in a stay is going to be not only irrelevant, but a lie. Whether it comes from the guest or the host.
Why should a host or a guest have to be contacting Airbnb to ask for such a review to be removed and Airbnb CS looking at the review to determine if they find it irrelevant.? What a monumental waste of everyone's time and COMPLTELY UNNECESSARY.
If a booking is cancelled before a guest even arrives, the only rating that should be asked of both hosts and guests is for communication.
It is mind-boggling that Airbnb has such a hard time coming up with what to the average person are sane, logical, and SIMPLE solutions and policies. Review forms for bookings cancelled before arrival need to either only have the communication rating, or the ability to skip over the irrelevant questions. It isn't rocket science.
@Sarah977The reluctance, or intransigence, to make this very simple change comes down to only one of a possible two reasons:
1. The process CANNOT be changed.
Given that the automated processes allow for recognition of guest's ages, locality and "riskiness", given that the processes also allow for recognition of a lower-than-5-star rating (now in all categories) in review feedback, and that it also recognizes many other facets of feedback inputs (including host cancellations that trigger an automated review and host penalties), is it at all reasonable to think that the processes are NOT able to recognize a guest-side cancellation and send an appropriate feedback form instead of the standard? Likely not.
So that leaves us with
2. The process WILL NOT be changed.
I have no idea why this may be so, but there are obviously back office reasons that it will not. I have exactly zero knowledge of what kind of metrics, user clicks, or ratings feedback are used or pertinent to the company's valuation, processes, marketing data, etc., etc. Dollars to doughnuts, though, the reason for not making this change lies here.
It is, of course, always good to keep in mind this direct quotation from the review policy:
While we encourage and expect all community members to post reviews that contain objective and accurate information, Airbnb does not mediate disputes concerning truth or fairness. We expect the author of the review to stand behind the content of their review. (Bolding mine).
re. Reviews for Cancellations prior to Arrival.
An obvious and simple solution would be to create a separate type of Review where the only Rating would be Communication. I'm sure it's well within the capabilities of Airbnb IT Dept to create such a category of Review.
Indeed, I was recently obliged to Cancel a same day booking / arrival by a Chinese guest due to the current health crisis I contacted Customer Services, and a Case Manager was most helpful and efficient in conducting the Cancellation under the Extenuating Circumstance policy. -- Yet because of the same day situation, we were both invited to Review. Neither of us have with now close to the deadline.
I would only add the situation arose because the Guest requested a booking prior to loading verification and with nothing to go on but a name, I could not readily detect it was a Chinese guest. Even following the booking the situation wasn't clear and obvious because Guest loaded a UK Simcard. I then had to politely enquire about her date of arrival in UK, which turned out to be less than a week previously. Consequently, I advised Guest and CS Manager that it would be best to rehouse Guest in a Studio or 1 Bedroom Flat from a non-live in Host. -- CS Manager simply informed me that she had managed to find another accommodation for the Guest.
Susan, you are sort of 'pissing into the wind' a bit here aren't you.
I would not, in a late onset dementia fit, expect Airbnb to voluntarily incriminate themselves in anything that might tarnish that squeeky clean, warm and fuzzy, 'cover your arse to the end' image that those execs who lounge around in comfy chairs in front of cameras portray!
We need to form strategies to work with the bullsh*t, not try to publicly cajole them into admitting that it exists!
I got this, Rob. I know exactly what I'm doing, thanks 😉
Re. "We nees to form strategies to work with the bullsh*t.. I'm sorry Rob, but we've been "working with the bullsh*t" for years. And where has that got us? Precisely nowhere, is where. Just deeper and deeper into the bullsh*t.
Whether they realise it or not (yet), the questions I'm asking here are actually highly relevant and crucially important to every small, independent host on the platform, who's trying to stay in the game in every market that has been commandeered by hordes of these scammer "professional" hosts - just like the ones exposed in the viral articles above, and the ones I'm referring to in my questions. The ones who are also flying high in the searches and hoovering up lots of lovely business for their scores/hundreds of local listings. courtesy of the hundreds of glowing fake 5 star reviews, from scores of false profiles assosciated with their accounts. These aren't rare or isolated incidents - these guys have their grubby, greedy paws in every market.
Despite all of them having seriously sketchy reviews and reputations, their ratings always remain artificially high on Airbnb, and their calendars full, as they flood their profiles with glittering reviews from the bogey profiles, burying the dam*ing ones. Many of them seem to have extraordinary good fortune in having their very worst reviews deleted by CX too. No surprise there, really.
Meanwhile, small local amateur hosts with exemplary track records and 5 star ratings - who sadly, aren't lavished with the preferential policies, practices and Pro-tools that Airbnb favours these wideboy "Pro's" with- are forced to battle for survival on a horribly-skewed playing field, under infinitely more severe and punitive terms and conditions.
The scary thing is, Rob - no small host can work with this particular bullsh*t for very long. Because this false review/fake profile/fraudulent host bullsh*t, is the very bullsh*t that's putting so many of them out of business in the first place. And ultimately, it's harming us all, whether we want to believe it or not.
Every small host needs to read these articles. Really read them, and process what they're saying, and what they're telling us about Airbnb's biased, two-tier systems. And open our eyes to exactly what is going on on this platform, the negative impacts for us all, and what the small armies of rogue "hosts" are getting away with in every major market - and many secondary markets now too - on the planet. I've been documenting them and writing about them on this very forum for years.
And they haven't gone away, you know. Not at all. They've just bred and spread like a plague of cockroaches Name me any market worldwide, and I'll find you several of these shady sh*ts within the hour - no AI, machine learning or algorithms needed. This problem is rampant, chronic, totally out of control, and is directly costing thousands upon thousands of small local hosts - including myself - their income, their livelihoods and their businesses, on a daily basis.
So hell, yeah, I want to know - and have a right to know - exactly what Airbnb is doing (if anything) to curb these cheating f*ckers global trail of destruction. And yes, I'm d*mn sure I want to know if Airbnb ever allows these scammers to remain on the platform, despite knowing that their accounts are riddled with false reviews (cos we all know how Airbnb are so, so vocal about the integrity of their review system, right?) And yes, absolutely, I'd love to know if Airbnb would ever, ever suspend the profile of a host/mega-host they know to be fraudulent, delete all the incriminating evidence of their fake reviews and false profiles, and reinstate that "host" with a squeaky clean profile. And quite frankly, every other small independent host - including homesharers - should be demanding to know too. But they're not, because they think it's not affecting them. They're very mistaken.
I'll keep asking though, until I get my response. Whatever it takes. I mean, there's really no need for reticence, is there? The obvious (and only acceptable) answer to both my most recent questions should - theoretically - be just a swift and simple "Absolutely not. We never allow fraudulent activity on our platform, under any circumstances." What's so difficult about that? Nothing incriminating whatsoever in such a response.
Tbh, it looks a great deal more incriminating that Airbnb didn't immediately give that very answer in their response that Lizzie posted, to my original set of questions in the OP. Perhaps they missed it. Not to worry though, they still have the opportunity to clear that up for us now, once and for all, in response to my second set of questions. In the interests of trust, transparency and openness, of course.
I get that you may not understand or even approve of my solo journey Rob, and that's cool, too.. but please - please.. just leave me to plough my own furrow, in my own way.