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Airbnb has revolutionized the way people travel, but for Black travelers looking for a place to stay, renting a room can be harder than just logging onto the website.

Last July, researchers at Harvard sent out requests to about 6,400 Airbnb hosts in Baltimore, Dallas, Los Angeles, St. Louis, and Washington. Some used “ethnic” names like Tanisha and Darnell to try to book a room, while others used names like Allison and Brad. What they found was troubling, but not new.

According to a paper on the subject, Airbnb hosts regularly engaged in “widespread discrimination” against room-seekers with Black-sounding names.

In fact, folks with Black-sounding names were 16 percent less likely to secure a room than folks with “white” names. Even more troubling was that the discrimination was persistent, no matter the race and gender of the host.

On the whole, we find that results are remarkably persistent. Both African American and White hosts discriminate against African-American guests; both male and female hosts discriminate; both male and female African-American guests are discriminated against. Effects persist both for hosts that offer an entire property and for hosts who share the property with guests. Discrimination persists among experienced hosts, including those with multiple properties and those with many reviews. Discrimination persists and is of similar magnitude in high and low priced units, in diverse and homogeneous neighborhoods.

While the study’s findings can certainly be problematic for Airbnb, the company said it is committed to building “one of the most open, trusted, diverse, transparent communities in the world.”

Still, the findings give many pause, especially as our society increasingly moves toward a “sharing economy.”

Online platforms such as Airbnb create new markets by eliminating search frictions, building trust, and facilitating transactions. With the rise of the sharing economy, however, comes a level of racial discrimination that is unheard of in a hotel. Clearly, the manager of a Holiday Inn cannot examine names of potential guests and reject them based on race. Yet, this is commonplace on Airbnb, which now accounts for a growing share of the hotel market. In this section, we discuss implications for market designers and policy-makers.

Have you ever been discriminated against by an Airbnb host? 

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