Airbnb Takes Attorney General to Court Over User Privacy

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Airbnb will see the Attorney General in court this week for oral arguments on a subpoena of thousands of records for New York hosts. Airbnb is claiming that while it is in agreement on the purpose of the subpoena — which was made in the interest of seeking out and stopping illegal activity being done by users via the site — the subpoena itself was “unreasonably broad” in its information demands, according to TechCrunch. Airbnb is a Silicon Valley website business that allows individuals to rent out rooms and couches to visiting travelers for a range of prices. This becomes more complicated in states like New York, which has a law against renters subletting for under 30 days.

The affidavit, which will likely be filed on Monday, showed that 64 percent of of the 19,500 and more offerings made for January 31 were for the “entire apartment” and that over 200 of these were from a mere five hosts — something that could suggest third parties are using the site to rent for the owners — according to Reuters.

The same issue has come up in San Francisco. “Under current law in San Francisco, law forbids renting residential apartments for less than 30 days to ensure that our housing wouldn’t be used as de facto hotels. But we know that the current reality is that these laws are broken every day. The estimates are, in San Francisco, over the past year, we’ve seen over 100,000 incidents,” said David Chiu, president of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, to NPR.

Airbnb’s Head of Global Public Policy David Hantman sent an email to hosts in New York on the trial. “Last year, we were shocked when the New York Attorney General demanded personal information about thousands of New Yorkers who share their space on Airbnb,” he wrote, claiming that tax dollars were not the issue despite claims from the Attorney General that his interests lay in collecting greater funds for New York. “Last week, we once again campaigned to change the law so our community can contribute $21 million in taxes to New York,” he said. He claimed further that while Airbnb is working to “collect and remit taxes on behalf of our hosts … lobbyists for the big hotels are standing in our way.”

Hantman is hitting especially hard on the particularly sensitive post-Snowden issue of information requests made to tech companies from the government. It would not be the first time privacy concerns risked scaring off revenue.”If we are ordered to hand over any data, we will work to ensure you are properly notified before the government recieves any information about you or your listing,” Hantman assured New York hosts.

Hantman is also referring to the main issue Airbnb has been dealing with of late — hotel taxes. Namely that up until recently, Airbnb hosts have not being paying the approximately 14 percent a room rate that most hotels pay, according to NPR, and the consensus is increasingly that they should be. That said, Airbnb has announced intentions to start doing so, and to begin efforts to figure the details out in major cities such as New York, Portland, and San Francisco first.

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