How personal information is something we increasingly have to make an effort to retain.
It’s been a year or two since I’ve used AirBnB and in that time they’ve introduced a verification system. To get validated everyone has to upload a government ID (drivers license / passport) and also give access to another online profile (like Facebook, LinkedIn). Until completed the platform and it’s service is not available.
Any effort to protect users (especially a peer-to-peer offering which potentially is open to abuse) is a good thing. However, the type of information requested plus the linking to another social account, raised questions in my brain around privacy and permission.
After a short email exchange with AirBnB’s help desk, the following were the main barriers for me:
- this highly personal and identifying information (drivers license / passport) sits on a third party server which even though is cited to have great security, potentially could still be open to hacks / leaks (there’s a growing list here);
- linking to another social account such as LinkedIn would give AirBnB access to my network (full names and identifying information) which simply wasn’t ethical (as I don’t have specific permission to share that information on);
- there’s enough information / evidence / videos etc about me online to validate my identity anyway.
AirBnB are a $20 billion dollar company with over 500,000 users every night and now dealing with some guy questioning their systems when they were put in place to protect folks. So to be honest, I held very little hope in seeing any outcome other than a repetition of the policies and reasons.
To my surprise, instead of dismissing my counters and above statements the customer service rep asked me to create a video stating my name and “AirBnB” plus to hold up my passport (just the outside). They would then explore with management what they could do. I did as requested utilising Vimeo’s password protected option to host my video and forwarded the link / password on.
36 hours later, boom, verified and invited to continue using their service.
Thank you AirBnB for treating me with respect, for listening to my concerns and challenges, for exploring alternative ways to validate my identity and basically approaching this in a manner which verifies yourselves as humans. Appreciate it’s a longer process although one which could provide an exemplar for those who decide to protect their information but would still like to use your service. What you lose in time you make up for in respect.
Special thanks to Sam from customer service who fielded my questions and assisted in getting me verified.
This interaction and outcome serves as a challenge that maybe we should all not blindly agree to terms of service and keep asking those ‘better’ questions, especially if they are ones which protect ourselves and those in our network.