New York Attorney General Not Giving Up on Airbnb Witch Hunt
Airbnb and New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's office have reached an uneasy truce today in the AG's quest to get his hands on information about the apartment-sharing site's roughly 15,000 New York users. In a joint agreement announced today, Airbnb says they'll hand over a list of their New York hosts to the AG, but with key information -- the host's name, address, email address and social media information -- redacted.
Schneiderman began investigating Airbnb last fall, saying he's concerned about people who may be using the site to run illegal hotels or duck the city and state lodging taxes. On May 13, a state judge ruled that a subpoena request from the AG's office for information on New York users was overly broad and asked for "materials that are irrelevant to the inquiry at hand."
Airbnb was quick to declare victory, saying the ruling was "good news for New Yorkers who simply want to share their home and the city they love."
Not to be deterred, Schneiderman's office re-filed a more narrowly-written subpoena one day later. Today, the two sides issued a statement outlining this agreement: over the next 30 days, Airbnb will hand over a list of New York City users, but will redact their names, email addresses, social media information, physical addresses, social security numbers and other account information. They'll replace that information with a "unique identifier," probably a numbered code.
But the AG gets something out of this too. For one year after the data is handed over, Airbnb will be required to hand over the names, email addresses, phone numbers, and other identifying information on any user who is the subject "of an investigation or a potential enforcement action" by the AG or the New York City Office of Special Enforcement , a city agency that focuses on quality of life by cracking down on things like adult businesses, "lawless clubs," and, more relevant here, apartment buildings being illegally converted into hotels. New Airbnb hosts will also have to read a disclaimer about hotel taxes and zoning laws before they can sign up.
In a blog post published this morning, David Hantman, head of global public policy for Airbnb, writes that the agreement "took a long time... with lots of hard work on both sides." He adds:
We wanted to do everything we could to avoid turning over data on thousands of regular New Yorkers, so we continued to work with the Attorney General's Office and we now believe we have reached an agreement that will protect the privacy of thousands of Airbnb hosts, while allowing the Attorney General to investigate bad actors and move us forward.
Hantman says the company has already removed most of the listings that might give the AG pause: "We believe the Attorney General's Office is focused on large corporate property managers and hosts who take apartments off the market and disrupt communities. We have already removed more than 2,000 listings in New York and believe that many of the hosts the Attorney General is concerned about are no longer a part of Airbnb."
Finally, he hints that Airbnb may be spearheading some legislative advocacy down the line: "We are pleased that we reached this agreement, but we know there is so much yet to be done. For instance, the law that made this investigation possible is still on the books, and we need to change that law to allow anyone in New York who wants to rent out their own home to do so."
The full letter announcing the agreement is on the following page.
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