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Airbnb CEO to Tech Platform Peers: Clean Up Your Own Content or the Government Will

Dennis Schaal, Skift
Airbnb CEO to Tech Platform Peers: Clean Up Your Own Content or the Government Will

With federal efforts under way to rescind certain content liability protections for internet platforms, Airbnb co-founder and CEO Brian Chesky said the tech industry can embrace the future — or have it force-fed.

“We can either walk into the future or get pulled into the future,” Chesky told CNBC’s Deirdre Bosa in an interview Monday. “But the old world is over. And I think this is something that goes way beyond any one platform. It’s an industry thing.”

From Airbnb to Tripadvisor, Yelp, and Facebook, tech platforms have come under fire for evading many liability lawsuits over their content because of the Section 230 provisions of the Communications Decency Act.

Airbnb has been criticized over the years for not doing enough to combat host racism and other forms of discrimination. Chesky said the company last week launched a system in the United States where account photos are decoupled from names, and Airbnb will collect data to measure whether guests — or would-be guests — are discriminated against. Users can opt out of the system.

Airbnb plans on periodically publishing the findings about discrimination on its platform, and Chesky said Airbnb will open source its learnings to share with other platforms.

“And my hope is that we use this data to actually design a more just, equitable platform,” Chesky said. “Because I think the days of internet companies saying, we’re just platforms, and we’re immune systems is over.”

Although he didn’t discuss it Monday, in related news Airbnb last week pledged that 20 percent of its board and executive team — combined — would be made up of people of color by the end of 2021, and that teams will submit recruitment and retention goals to be implemented by the end of 2025.

Recovery or Just Pent-Up Demand?

In the CNBC interview, Chesky covered familiar ground on how he believes travel in its pre-Covid-19 incarnation is over, and it’s going to be replaced by a redistributed mix of travelers opting for thousands of local destinations away from the big tourism magnets for safety and security.

“Travel as we knew it is over,” Chesky said. “It doesn’t mean travel is over, just the travel we knew is over. And it’s never coming back. It’s just not, no one quite knows what it will look like.”

Chesky was cautious about the outlook for a travel recovery, characterizing the rebound as “sustained” so for, but this could just be a tease.

“Again, we don’t know how much of the recovery is pent up demand, right?” Chesky said. “If you don’t allow someone to buy something for three months, then they can all buy all at once and get the finger on top of the world. And that might just be pent up demand. At the same time, it may actually portend a more sustainable recovery.”

Going Public?

Chesky said Airbnb is not ruling out an initial public offering this year, nor is the company committing to it. He said travel and the stock markets would have to recover first.

He said Airbnb would “play it by ear and be pretty careful, pretty thoughtful” regarding a stock market debut in 2020.

HotelTonight Is Not for Sale

Chesky was somewhat cagey about whether Airbnb might sell some assets, but he was adamant that HotelTonight, which Airbnb acquired in 2019 for some $400 million, would not be among them even though Airbnb has paused hotel investment for now.

“We’re not selling Hotel Tonight,” Chesky said. “I’m really happy we acquired the company and we are not selling it. We’re really happy with that asset. We just are, the things I thought we’re going to accomplish in a year, it’s going to take now longer than a year because we don’t have as many people working on it. We have to focus it.”

Here’s a portion of the CNBC interview:

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