Airbnb tightens up security with user verification

By Richard Nieva , written on April 30, 2013

From The News Desk


There’s probably no company built more on the notion of trust than Airbnb. After all, you’re sharing lodging with a stranger. Today, the company is trying to turn some of that trust into a systematic certainty by rolling out a new security requirement.

Airbnb is launching a page on its site for users to verify their accounts in two steps, both online and offline. For online verification, they need to verify their Facebook or LinkedIn pages. If they aren't on either, they are required to point to three positive reviews from Airbnb. If they don’t have those, and aren’t Facebook or LinkedIn members, they can contact customer service to figure it out, says Jakob Kerr, Airbnb’s communications manager. As for offline verification, they  need to scan their state-issued identification card, or confirm some personal info like entering the last four digits of their social security number or confirming a home address from years back.

The idea is to pull away the veil of inauthenticity. The thinking goes that it will put users at ease when browsing the site, and it will give owners peace of mind to know that people are accountable, and they are tied to their real personal information.

For now, the verification process is mostly opt-in, though a random 25 percent of Airbnb users in the United States will be required to complete the verification before they can make reservations. Eventually, the goal is to get full participation, but Kerr says for now the company is rolling it out incrementally but plans to launch it internationally by year's end.

Of course, trust is a two-sided thing. By giving Airbnb scanned ID information, customers are implicitly trusting the company and its own security standards. And that’s not quite paranoia, considering the slew of recent cyberattacks that have hit the Web, including a high-profile attack last week on LivingSocial in which hackers gained access to the email, passwords and other personal information of 50 million users. “We understand we’re asking customers for more of their personal info,” says Kerr, but he continues, “We view trust as the fuel of the sharing economy as a whole.”

He promises all of the data will be encrypted, and only seen by a small number of Airbnb employees. He says those employees are regularly audited to ensure their integrity.

It’s easy to see why a verified account would put users at ease. Airbnb has taken its lumps with trust and security issues in the past. The company first began to address concerns in in earnest in 2011, after a host reported a guest ransacked her home. Airbnb launched what the company called “Operation: Trust,” implementing new features like a 24-hour customer hotline. City Hall and tenants groups have also been pushing back against the company. The San Francisco Tenants union has recently been fighting for a limit on short-term rentals to only two to three months of the year.

Even with those issues, Kerr says the verification requirement is proactive rather than reactive, claiming that authentic identity is just the next part of the process.

That makes sense, especially if you’re letting someone sleep on your couch – or in your bed.