Then, my uncle suggested they say goodbye to us as well, and they left. A few hours later, my dad took his final breath. T hat night, back at my aunts house in Austin, we silently ate pumpkin pie and lit the hanukkah candles, joylessly going through the motions of tradition. As I sat watching the flames flicker, that days violent movie streaming in my mind (as itd continue to do so, nearly non-stop, for months the realization that we had booked a second night at the cabin suddenly jarred. Had the company been told about the accident? What was there to even say?
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(We found out later that it had been dead for two years.) The rope swing sat to the side, still attached to the tree on chains. A fresh breeze rustled leaves where my dad had been lying, now matted to the ground with blood. A kelly-green birdhouse clung to the part of the trunk that still stood upright. I could hear the light gurgling of the creek in the distance. I always feel a sense of peace come over me when I look out at the yard, our hosts had written beneath a photo of the yard on their Airbnb listing, the companys insignia floating just pixels from where the trunk later split in two. As I revisited the listing to screengrab photos, i felt bad for our hosts: it was unlikely that their beloved view would ever inspire that feeling again. They didnt seem like bad people, at least, not from the brief impression they made editor at the hospital, where they showed up soon after my family and ios i arrived. Family photos courtesy of the author, at first I had no idea who they were or why they were there. (My sister had texted them.) But through the blur of emotions and tears, somehow I grasped that they belonged in this small holding room with all of our closest family: my mom, sister, uncles, aunts, cousins, grandmother, and the airbnb people, as they soon became. As I paced around the hospital wing for hours, they camped out in the lobby, clearly devastated. When the neurologist told us there was no choice but to take my dad off life support and that it was time to start saying our goodbyes, they cried when they found out.
D isbelief is often the impetus to pull out a smartphone and snap a photo. As I drifted through the daze of the accident, i relied increasingly on documentation to ground myself in the reality of the experience, photographing each strange, sad, and shocking moment to link it up with the one that came before it: the emergency first responders. The resulting images provided both distance and proximity to the unfolding trauma — it was mine but also outside. So began my evidence gathering. After the hospital, i returned to the cottage with my cousins to pick up the items we had thesis left behind in our haste — suitcases, my dads clothes, the tray of cauliflower we never had time to cook — and photograph the accident site. I descended the steps of the deck and returned to the tree, this time alone. It was an eerily innocent scene: the soft november sun lit up the blonde wood of the fallen trees decaying core.
Companies that take advantage of such ambiguity pose risks to consumers, particularly when theyre trafficking in human experience, not just data or speech like napster, tumblr, and others before them who have appealed to their platform status to weather challenges to the legally murky activities. But companies are highly strategic about which aspects of their platform theyre willing to invest in and which parts they ignore. Airbnb, for its part, figured out early on that really bad photos of its listings in New York city were keeping guests away, as co-founder joe gebbia recalled to, fast Company in 2012: people were using camera phones and taking Craigslist-quality pictures. No one was booking because you couldnt see what you were paying for. Airbnbs solution was to send professional photographers to document hosts properties free of charge. The program was a success: professional photography quickly helped double revenue in New York and is now available nationally. Of course, were airbnb to invest in safety requirements by offering home inspections or by analyzing photo content to target higher-risk properties and features (pools, saunas, trampolines, etc.) with site-specific safety recommendations, such a program could be far more costly, and might jeopardize airbnbs covetable. The irony is that amateur innkeepers who couldnt be trusted with the banal task of photographing and marketing their properties are expected to excel at hospitalitys most important rule: keeping guests safe and alive. The result: Airbnb is willing to send someone to make sure your trees look beautiful in their photos, but wont deal with whether or not those trees will fall on your head.
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For new members, they are inspected with an overnight stay, and handwriting then every two years, our properties are inspected, she says, covering everything from cleanliness to decor, and ensuring that individual rooms have a deadbolt, smoke detectors are functioning, and landscaping seems safe. As far as the safety stuff, its mandatory for our members that they meet all these criteria, adds Hall. Introducing similar measures would not only require airbnb to spend money, it would also mean flirting online with liability it would rather outsource to hosts. (As the companys website clearly states: Airbnb has no control over the conduct of Hosts and disclaims all liability.). What sharing economy startups need to be in order to minimize liability is as passive a platform as possible, lawyer Jim Rosenfeld told.
Cardozo law School panel this March. The more they themselves are providing content and providing services — like vouching for the safety of a property — the greater their risk of exposure. The more theyre like a bulletin board or an old-fashioned matchmaking service — in a word, Craigslist — the better off they are. While airbnbing a room has become the norm for many travelers, the company denies it has anything to do with lodging. Rather, its a trusted community marketplace and an online platform that connects hosts who have accommodations to rent with guests seeking to rent such accommodations. Of course, platforms are not neutral pieces of technology: they are embedded with the values of the marketplace, strategically designed for maximum profit and minimal liability.
We let her down, and for that we are very sorry, ceo. Brian Chesky wrote in 2011, after a san Francisco woman, ej, returned home to find her apartment destroyed, her possessions burned, and her family heirlooms stolen. When her blog post documenting the ordeal went viral, they changed their policy to guarantee 50,000, then 1 million, in property damages and hired enough customer service reps to man the phones 247. Less has been done to protect guests against hosts, presumably because fewer horror stories have gone public. When an American man was bit by a dog left behind at a homeshare in Argentina this March, airbnb refused to cover his medical expenses until after. The new York times began inquiring.
(About that incident, airbnb told me, our initial response didnt measure up, and were constantly auditing our customer service team to ensure these kinds of errors dont happen. In this case, we worked with the guest to help cover his medical and other expenses, and we provided a full refund of his booking costs.) Home safety tips were not incorporated into the sign-up process for new properties until after my fathers incident. Even so, nothing is currently done to make sure hosts actually comply with safety guidelines (or even read them which is a problem particularly for newer properties on the platform, which Airbnbs customers, as opposed to employees, are left to vet for safety. Should the company demand more from aspiring hosts — submitting an application, passing a safety quiz, hopping on the phone with an Airbnb safety rep, or undergoing a home inspection (an idea which. Chesky himself has suggested ) — theyd burden the seamlessness of the minutes-long sign-up process and deter new registrations. H ad the hosts of the texas property opted to become part of a community of more traditional b bs, they would have encountered a cumbersome but rigorous process, according to the texas Bed and Breakfast Associations executive director Connie hall.
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Staying with a stranger or inviting one into your home is an inherently dicey proposition. Hotel rooms are standardized for safety, monitored by staff, and often quite expensive. Airbnb rentals, on the other hand, are unregulated, eclectic, and affordable, and the safety essay standards are only slowly materializing. To be fair, airbnb has always put basic safeguards in place, like user reviews. But its general approach to safety is consistent with Silicon Valleys build it first, mend it later philosophy. When an early product produces negative outcomes and bad press, apologize. Then, fix it; make it better.
Since the friend incident, ive felt isolated by the burden of this story and my sense of obligation to go public with it, but with an unclear aim. Am I raising awareness, in the familiar path of the victim speaking out? And if so, to what end? What will sharing my story really mean for Airbnb? Could the company, with its reportedly 24 billion valuation and plans to go public, do more to ensure the safety of the properties where millions of guests stay each year? As Airbnb rises into a global hospitality behemoth — reinventing not just how we travel but how we value private space — what responsibility does the company have to those who have given it their dollars and trust? Startups that redefine social and economic relations pop up in an instant. Lawsuits and regulations lag behind. While my family may be the first guests to speak out about a wrongful death at an Airbnb rental, it shouldnt exactly come as a surprise.
very serious. They called for a helicopter and told us to start driving to austin. I scrubbed the blood off my lips and took off my soaking sweatshirt. Everything was blurry — adrenaline makes things that way. So does not putting on your contacts. I popped mine into my eyes and got into the car. I ts only a matter of time until something terrible happens, The new York times s Ron lieber wrote in a 2012 piece examining Airbnbs liability issues. My familys story — a private matter until now — is that terrible something.
Blood sprayed my blue sweatshirt and a few crumpled autumn leaves. We were face-to-face, but his head hung limply, his right eye dislodged, his mouth full of blood, his tongue swirling around with each raspy breath. What do you do in this situation? I grabbed a washcloth and started mopping up his leaking face. I told my sister not to come outside. She faints when theres blood. Tell me each time he takes a breath, the 911 dispatcher said in my ear. Hes breathing in; hes breathing out. Saying it aloud assignments like a mantra calmed me down slightly, but was it doing anything for him?
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My dad died in juan an Airbnb rental, and hes not the only one. What can the company do to improve safety? Photo-illustrations by Matter, t he rope swing looked inviting. Photos of it on Airbnb brought my family to the cottage in Texas. Hanging from a tree as casually as baggy jeans, the swing was the essence of leisure, of southern hospitality, of escape. When my father decided to give it a try on Thanksgiving morning, the trunk it was tied to broke in half and fell on his head, immediately ending most of his brain activity. I was in bed when my mom found him. Her screams brought me down to the yard where i saw the tree snapped in two and his body on the ground. I knelt down and pulled him up by the shoulders.