Public Relations

Airbnb Competitor Roomorama: ‘We Don’t Want to Trade Security for Volume’

broken windows1 Airbnb Competitor Roomorama: We Dont Want to Trade Security for Volume

Airbnb's reputation.

The story of the Airbnb user whose apartment was burglarized and trashed by an Airbnb renter continues. A blog post written by the victim, “EJ,” took a month to hit the internets–but once it did, it hit big, prompting Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky to write a response on TechCrunch yesterday to say that he was in close contact with the victim and the police and that with Airbnb’s help, a suspect was in custody.

Bullshit, EJ wrote in an update on her blog yesterday, responding to Mr. Chesky line by line. Someone was apprehended a month ago, she writes, but he or she was “transferred to a neighboring jurisdiction for prosecution of previous crimes, and no charges or arrest warrant has been issued for my case within San Francisco County. If this has changed and Chesky’s statement is in fact true, I have not been made aware by city officials.”

“We have been in close contact with her ever since, and have worked with the authorities to help find a resolution,” Mr. Chesky wrote.

EJ’s answer:

“If the ‘her’ he is referring to is me, then the first part of this statement is false (the second I cannot attest to). During the first week of my nightmare, the customer service team at Airbnb was – as I stated in my June 29 blog post – helpful, caring and supportive. In particular, one customer service manager – and the company’s freelance photographer – were wonderfully kind to me, and both should know how grateful I am.

On June 29 I posted my story, and June 30 thus marks the last day I heard from the customer service team regarding my situation. In fact, my appointed ‘liaison’ from Airbnb stopped contacting me altogether just three days after I reported the crime, on June 25, for reasons that are unknown to me. I have heard nothing from her since.

I blogged my story, and all these kind and supportive people just … disappeared.”

But the most damning part of this update: EJ claims an Airbnb co-founder called her after seeing the blog post last month and asked her to take it down because the company was raising a round of funding.

“During this call and in messages thereafter, he requested that I shut down the blog altogether or limit its access, and a few weeks later, suggested that I update the blog with a ‘twist’of good news so as to ‘complete[s] the story.’”

Obviously, she didn’t, and since then, she received “occasional contact regarding my situation, his messages directed primarily at my blog post and its activity on Twitter.”

Airbnb has reached out to EJ and is waiting for a response, Mr. Chesky wrote on Hacker News today. EJ noted that “a second co-founder did email me for the first time around 2am yesterday, suggesting we meet for coffee as he ‘would enjoy meeting’ me. He made no inquiry into my current emotional state, my safety or my well being.” Neither of the co-founders she spoke to were Mr. Chesky, she said.

As Airbnb continues to make itself look worse, Betabeat received an email from New York-based Airbnb competitor Roomorama, founded and bootstrapped by Jia En Teo and Federico Folcia, who started renting their apartment out to short-term visitors and turned it into a business in January 2009. The site lists 1,520 properties in New York.

Roomorama requires guests and hosts to email a scanned photo ID to confirm the name on the credit card in order to make a booking, Ms. En Teo said, and she believes this simple extra step has deterred a lot of users–honest ones as well as thieves–which is fine with her.

“We do lose people that way,” she said. “But in the long run it is much better because we’re getting ony the hosts who will take the time to address guest concerns and guest questions.”

Roomorama had an issue with a thieving guest, she said, but they caught it early, jumped on it right away and got the police involved.

“Personally, we take a lot of pride in making sure that we’re providing that kind of support to our users,” she said.

If she were in Mr. Chesky’s shoes, she said, “the way we would handle it is we take this kind of thing very seriously and try to respond as quickly as possible” to make the host happy. Roomorama has a customer service line open from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern time and a 24-hour email service line, manned by a team of four.

It’s a lot of work, she said, but she’d rather the service be smaller and more exclusive than huge and unregulated. “We don’t want to trade off security for volume,” she said.

“Roomorama and marketplaces like ours are supposed to be one notch above the wild, wild West of Craigslist,” she said.

Roomorama’s security measures aren’t overwhelming, but it’s an interesting contrast to the $1 billion-valued Airbnb, which performs no identity checks. “We make no attempt to confirm, and do not confirm, any user’s purported identity,” the terms of services says.

The harrowing story of the Airbnb user EJ prompted Ms. En Teo to reach out to her competitors in order to set a precedent for sharing information about sketchy users, so if she gets a report about misbehavior she can send an alert to get him or her banned from other sites. Incidents like this hurt the entire market as well as individual users, she said.

Meanwhile, Airbnb has not responded to Betabeat’s request for comment.

ADDITION: A commenter below points out Couchsurfing.com, the free version of Airbnb, has a verification system for hosts–you donate some money to Couchsurfing, and they send a postcard to your mailing address with a code, which you then enter on the site to verify your address. Couchsurfing employs several levels of verification–users post testimonials about each other (a la Friendster) and are required to fill out a long form with information about their interaction in order to do so; power users can “vouch” for other users, a high-level seal of approval, and once a user has three “vouches” he or she can then vouch for others; and verification, which is the address confirmation system.

Follow Adrianne Jeffries on Twitter or via RSS. ajeffries@observer.com

Comments

  1. Why not save the time scanning your actual ID when you can Google, “new york driver’s license” and just send one of the many available images of someone else?

    1. guest says:

      oh you are so clever… read the article. they check it along with a credit card.

  2. Couchsurfing charges your credit card a small fee for verification, and then mails you a letter to your billing/mailing address.  The letter contains a verification code.  Only after you enter that code into the site are you verified.  This ensures that you are physically located at the address you specify during registration.  PO Boxes aren’t allowed.

    1. John Britton says:

      Small world, eh Phillip?

      1. hey John.  yeah, we keep bumping into each other.

  3. seo agencies says:

    airbnb really stepped on it here.

  4. ebpp says:

    it’s sad to see so many companies sacrifice their customer safety in order to increase growth. You can bet that was a decision that was intentionally made by AirBNB

  5. Fun2rent.com says:

    Fun2Rent.com just released Peer to Peer Recreation & Powersport Rentals, all of our renters will be qualified, with deposits and full coverage insurance, every owner will have $300k in liability insurance for free with their listing on Fun2Rent.com  @Fun2Rent:twitter   This would not be a problem if there was insurance to renters on Airbnb

  6. Security measures are important, but if someone really wants to bully you, the company or wants media attention, it’s not that hard to fake an identity. Especially on an international travel system, where they could steal any one of 6 billion identities. I don’t think you can prevent this from happening and I suspect it becomes more likely if you brag about your security measures.

    As for normal crimes like theft and vandalism, I agree CouchSurfing has an impressive system. Another thing they do better than AirBnB is that much of the reputation information is confidential between you and the system. It’s also less pushy about leaving public references. 

    Public references work well for restaurants and companies, because of there is professional distance which allows people to be more honest. If you just met a person, you’ll most likely say nice things about them unless something bad happened. Outside the USA, people are most likely even less comfortable saying anything in public about another person.

    CouchSurfing asks confidential information like “I don’t know this person well enough to tell if I trust them”. 

    Not that I’ve ever been a CEO of big and fast growing company, but I think he should have personally visited the victim the second he learned about the situation, no matter how busy his schedule. It was just a few miles from headquarters. Not wait for things to blow up in the media and then write a blog post.

  7. As others have alluded to, it’s trivial to photoshop an ID with different info and photo. You could use a stolen credit card and a modified ID to make a reservation.

    That said, I’m more concerned with “email a scanned photo ID”. Are they seriously having users send scanned IDs through email? Email is completely insecure and should NEVER be used for sensitive information such as an ID. IDs should be treated in the same manner as credit cards. Would you ever ask a customer to email you scans of their credit card? You’d lose your merchant account faster than you can say law suit.

  8. Anonymous says:

    AirBnB handled this very badly. They should’ve paid for the restoration of that woman’s home. Those bastards are making 10% on each rental, it’s like they own 10% of all the real estate they’re renting, and it just happens that all of that real estate is rented at double the rate a conventional rental would.

    The second thing they did wrong was trying to quiet her, you should never try to censor anybody, it always comes out, the best thing they would’ve done was to fix the problem by helping the renter, and secondly changing their policies or introducing a new product, an optional 5% insurance fee. They would’ve turned the inconvenience into opportunity.

  9. Ryan says:

    I live in an apartment complex in New York City called Stuy Town. It’s private property. Airbnb had four dedicated sections to our apartment complex and for months they were asked to take them down. Even before the law went into affect May 1st, it was in violation of a signed lease here to use an apartment as a hotel. We had brokers renting apartments solely to use as hotels and had a psycho lady glue her neighbors locks shut when she suspected her of turning in her illegal hotel to the management company. All of this was reported to Airbnb and they did nothing to prevent such listings. The Stuy Town sections weren’t removed until a neighborhood blog covered the story to the point of obsession and the story got out there via social media.

  10. By now many of us following the latest boom in collaborative consumption
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    renters was lacking to say the least. The way I see it, the answer is,
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  11. Hi, 

    Thanks guys for sharing this news…………………………………….

  12. Outstanding post over again. Very interesting.

  13. christinaxio says:

    I like your approach in this article good work and upper west side rentals and keep going.

  14. “The story of the Airbnb user whose apartment was burglarized and trashed by an Airbnb renter continues. ” it line is like ocean in the pitcher. It says everything for us.