How Airbnb hid the facts in New York City

A Report by Murray Cox and Tom Slee

On December 1 2015, Airbnb made data available about its business in New York City, with much fanfare. A new report by Murray Cox and me shows that the Airbnb data release misled the media and the public.

front-page-graphAirbnb’s data release was presented as “the first time Airbnb has voluntarily shared city data on a wide scale on how its hosts use the online platform”. This report shows that the data was photoshopped: Airbnb ensured it would paint a flattering picture by carrying out a one-time targeted purge of over 1,000 listings in the first three weeks of November. The company then presented November 17 as a typical day in the company’s operations and mis-represented the one-time purge as a historical trend.

Key Facts

  • Airbnb purged over 1,000 “Entire Home” listings from its site just days before it prepared a data snapshot of its business.
  • Airbnb used the data snapshot to paint a misleading picture of its business:
    • Airbnb’s message was that only 10% of Entire Homes listings belonged to hosts with multiple listings. The true number had been close to 19% for all of 2015.
    • Airbnb’s message was that “95% of our entire home hosts share only one listing”. The claim was true for less than two weeks of the year.
    • Airbnb’s rosy projections about the future of its business were not objective analyses based on historical trends. The company extrapolated from an artificial and unrepresentative one-time event.
  • Airbnb’s one-time purge was a PR effort, and does not indicate a change of heart for the company:
    • No similar event took place in other cities in North America or elsewhere.
    • Contrary to Airbnb projections, levels of multiple-listing entire homes have already jumped back to 13% of the total, only two months after the purge.
    • Despite claiming that it wants to “work with cities”, Airbnb carried out its purge without disclosure or consultation. Airbnb did not kick illegal hosts off the site; many commercial hosts still have listings on the site, but the purge made them appear, briefly, to be single-listing hosts.

The Report

Download the full report: how-airbnbs-data-hid-the-facts-in-new-york-city.pdf.

The Data

Download the full TS data set as a set of CSV files: 2014, 2015, 2016.

Download the full MC data set from Inside Airbnb.

For the press

Full press release: press-release-how-airbnbs-data-hid-the-facts-in-new-york-city.pdf.

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