By Deborah M. Todd
(Reuters) - Online rental marketplace Airbnb will address reports of widespread racial discrimination against non-white guests by displaying user photos less prominently, promoting instant bookings and changing some of its technology, according to a report commissioned by the company.
The report, released on Thursday, followed months of criticism of Airbnb, sparked partly by comments under Twitter hashtag #AirbnbWhileBlack about hosts' discrimination against black people.
"Bias and discrimination have no place on Airbnb, and we have zero tolerance for them," Chief Executive Officer Brian Chesky wrote in an email to users. "Unfortunately, we have been slow to address these problems, and for this I am sorry."
Before the end of the year, Airbnb will roll out changes to its reservation request system that emphasize trip details, reviews and verified IDs while downplaying users' photos, said the report from Laura Murphy & Associates.
San Francisco-based Airbnb will also expand its instant booking program, which allows guests to make reservations without prior host approval, to 1 million of its 2 million listings by January.
It will also implement technology that prevents hosts from booking new guests if they tell another guest their listing is unavailable for the same time frame.
Starting Nov. 1, Airbnb users must agree to treat fellow members without bias regardless of race, religion, national origin, disability, sex, gender identity, sexual orientation or age.
The company will make its anti-bias training program available online and will highlight hosts who participate. Anti-bias training is mandatory for all staff.
The company has also introduced hiring rules designed to increase diversity among senior-level positions and is retraining customer service representatives on its diversity policy.
The changes received mixed reviews from civil rights organizations
Rashad Robinson, executive director of anti-discrimination organization Color of Change, called Airbnb's plans a victory for activists and individuals who sparked the protests.
Earlier this year Color of Change sent a letter to Airbnb executives demanding they take action to address discrimination complaints.
However, Lawyer's Committee for Civil Rights Under Law President Kristen Clarke said eliminating photos altogether would have made the greatest difference.
"The company's reliance on photos prior to the confirmation stage will allow discrimination to continue rearing its ugly head," said Clarke, a former Airbnb guest who penned a New York Times op-ed piece discussing discrimination on the site.
(Reporting by Deborah M. Todd; Editing by Lisa Von Ahn)