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Airbnb Goes Grassroots With ‘Us vs. Them’ Damage Control Campaign

We might almost feel bad for Airbnbairbnb thanks to its appearance in an endless stream of negative headlines if the company–and its ideological partner Uber–weren’t also responsible for so many think pieces about “the sharing economy.”

If the news is so bad, then why is the company’s estimated value somewhere around $10 billion–which is, as The New York Times reminded us today, more than the total worth of Hyatt Hotels Corporation?

The answer, as far as we can tell, involves the appeal of staying somewhere for cheap and a strategy focused on casting the company’s legal struggles as a case of “The People” versus “The Man”–said man in this case being New York attorney general Eric Schneiderman.

Schneiderman wants the names of all 15,000 Airbnb hosts in New York so he can punish cheaters–but the company has spun his argument as an attempt to “protect the big hotel chains” at the expense of the little man, and a related petition posted by an average Jane over the weekend will easily reach its goal of 25,000 signatures.

Here’s the problem: Airbnb created Peers, the organization that posted the petition. And Schneiderman is almost certainly correct in assuming that a majority of Airbnb shares in the city last less than 30 days–which means they’re illegal.

The Times article is a little harsh, but its sentiments are correct: Airbnb is effectively attempting to circumvent the law in New York State and caricaturing Schneiderman in order to make itself more sympathetic.

The real issue is that the nature of Airbnb’s service all but ensures abuse–and the bad apples will continue to spoil the bunch via headlines about drugs and porn, because they’re not directly accountable to the company itself.

Airbnb has certainly been creative about addressing the problem. They’re getting better about fixing bad cases with both money and apologies, and we imagine that their strategies will grow more flexible with time. But as long as a large number of their users are technically breaking the law, these standoffs will continue.

And for the record: we’d still never trust any stranger to take care of our apartment.

To each his own, then.

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