Amidst increasing pressure from the law and creepy renters, the world's best urban vacation rental startup is forcing users to fork over government-issued photo I.D. so they can crosscheck your identity against your social media account... all to rent a cheap apartment. Yes, Airbnb is now more strict than most bars.
The company announced its new double-I.D. verification strategy Tuesday. You can use your passport, state identification card, or driver's license for your physical I.D., and then your Facebook, LinkedIn, or three previous good reviews on Airbnb for your Internet I.D. The Airbnb community thrives on good reviews, so this is clearly intended as a way to fend off creeps more than it is to complicate matters for power users, but it's something of a first for a tech startup to ask you to show an identification card. Of course, plenty of sites use a two-step authentication technique requiring a user's cellphone to activate an account — some are pushing Twitter to enact that same policy — but Airbnb is the first to go all bouncer-outside-the-door on you.
The startup is long removed from the horror stories that forced it to install a million-dollar insurance policy on every rental, like the user whose Stockholm apartment was turned into a brothel, or the user whose apartment was robbed and trashed in San Francisco two years ago. It helps to have real identification when those kind of jerks show up on an otherwise beloved site. It also helps with directing the ensuing legal battle in the direction of said creep, rather than toward the startup itself.
The new policy, unfortunately, doesn't do anything to fix Airbnb's disclosure problem with its users, though. There's the story of Nigel Warren, an Airbnb user who accrued $40,000 worth of fines because services like Airbnb's are against the law in New York City — except the startup doesn't really tell you that, does it? Because are you really reading all the terms of service when you're trying to make a little extra scratch without telling your landlord? Warren rented his apartment while on a trip to Europe and came back to a bill from his landlord — and no help from Airbnb's legal team. Despite New Yorkers absolutely loving the service, if you get busted by the city, then you're about to be staring down some very hefty fines.