A new way we're fighting discrimination on Airbnb

Introducing Project Lighthouse to uncover, measure, and overcome discrimination.
By Airbnb on Jun 15, 2020
8 min read
Updated Dec 13, 2022


  • Project Lighthouse will help us understand when and how racial discrimination happens on Airbnb

  • We’re working with civil rights groups to make sure we take these important steps in a thoughtful way

  • We’re also working with leading privacy organizations to help ensure everyone’s privacy is respected

Editor’s note: We released a new update in December 2022 detailing our initial Project Lighthouse findings, along with additional work we’re doing to help fight discrimination. Get the details.

Our mission has always been to create a world where anyone can belong anywhere. Racism, hate, and discrimination go against everything we believe in as a company and a global community. Since 2016, we’ve removed 1.3 million people from Airbnb for declining to treat others without judgment or bias—but there’s still a lot more work to be done.

An important step in our continued fight against discrimination is understanding when and how it happens. So we’d like to tell you about Project Lighthouse, a groundbreaking initiative we’re launching in the United States to uncover, measure, and overcome discrimination when booking or hosting on Airbnb.

We know you might have questions about Project Lighthouse and what it means for you, and we’ve done our best to answer them here.

How will Project Lighthouse work?
Discrimination is based on perception—and on Airbnb, people perceive race from things like first names and profile photos. Together, with civil rights organizations like Color Of Change and Upturn, we're beginning with research to understand when and where racial discrimination happens on our platform and the effectiveness of policies that fight it.

How did Airbnb develop Project Lighthouse?
We’ve developed Project Lighthouse with input from leading civil rights groups and privacy organizations, including Asian Americans Advancing Justice - AAJC, Center for Democracy & Technology, Color Of Change, The Leadership Conference on Civil & Human Rights, LULAC, the NAACPNational Action Network, and Upturn, to make sure we do this important work in a way that’s both thoughtful and respectful of everyone’s privacy.

Who is eligible to participate?
At this time, the project will be limited to U.S.-based hosts and guests.

When will Project Lighthouse launch?
Research is scheduled to begin in September, and all hosts and guests will have an opportunity to opt out. Starting June 30, we shared details about how the process works and how you can opt out—and everyone will receive at least 30 days’ notice to opt out should they choose not to participate.

How does Airbnb want to use my information?
This project measures discrimination that’s based on perception. People often base their perception of someone’s race on their name and what they look like. So, to get these perceptions, we’ll share Airbnb profile photos and the first names associated with them with an independent partner that’s not part of Airbnb. This partner operates under a strict confidentiality agreement, so they are prohibited from sharing this information with anyone else.

The partner will look at these photos and first names and indicate their perceptions—or, what race they think the information we shared suggests. They’ll share these perceptions with a specialized team at Airbnb exclusively for anti-discrimination work. Before it’s shared, though, all the information tying perceived race back to an account is removed, including the photo, first name, and other details that could be used to find out which Airbnb account they belong to. Airbnb won’t associate perceived race with specific accounts, or target you based on this information.

We’ll use our partner’s perceptions, for example, to figure out whether the reservations of those seen as a certain race are declined more often than others, which will help us create new features and policies to address any difference. We’ve partnered with civil rights and privacy organizations to make sure we do this work in a way that’s both thoughtful and respectful of everyone’s privacy.

Will Airbnb be using an algorithm, facial recognition technology, or machine learning?
No. We believe the best way to determine perceived race information is using human perception and not machine learning. The use of algorithms, facial recognition technology, or machine learning for something as sensitive as race would require careful consideration and input from, among others, civil rights and privacy organizations. Were we to consider doing so, we would seek their guidance and support in addition to making sure you are informed.

Profile photos aren’t shown until a booking is confirmed. Why are you planning to use profile photos in research?
While profile photos have been removed during the initial booking process, we’re interested in understanding how profile photos might impact other aspects of users’ interactions on the platform with regards to things like cancellations or reviews.

How will Airbnb respect my privacy?
Before we analyze perceived race information, all of the information is separated from your profile—that means it’s not tied back to any specific Airbnb account. We won’t use this information to change anyone’s individual experience as a host or guest on Airbnb, and we won’t use this information other than for anti-discrimination work or use it in any marketing or advertising. We’ll analyze patterns on a larger scale.

Why is Airbnb announcing Project Lighthouse now?
We’ve worked on this project for nearly two years and planned to launch this initiative later in 2020. But recent events in the U.S. have compelled us to move more quickly. W
hile Airbnb already investigates self-reported, individual instances of discrimination, we don’t currently have a way to measure larger trends and patterns related to discrimination that might be happening across Airbnb. Those individual instances of discrimination may be the symptom of a bigger systemic problem, and we want to fight both.

What happens if Airbnb uncovers inequities?
Project Lighthouse is one part of our ongoing work to prevent and respond to discrimination on Airbnb. Any insights will be used to help develop new features and policies that create a more equitable experience on our platform and deliver on our enduring mission of creating greater belonging.

Other types of discrimination exist. Why is Airbnb focusing on race?
We stand against all types of discrimination—not just racial discrimination, and not just discrimination against one specific community. We’re committed to working against discrimination based on race, color, national origin, age, sex, gender identity, religion, sexual orientation, disability, and familial status—which are all issues that impact hosts and guests around the world. This is one part of a larger fight.

How can I opt out of Project Lighthouse?
You can change your opt-out preferences at any time in your privacy and sharing settings—and if you opt out, your information won’t be collected from that point forward for Project Lighthouse. But please keep in mind that by including your information in this effort, you’re helping us create a new benchmark to uncover, measure, and fight discrimination on Airbnb. Before we analyze perceived race information, all of the information is separated from your profile—that means it is not tied back to your specific Airbnb account.

What is Airbnb doing to help other companies fight discrimination?
Technology companies have a tremendous responsibility to provide an experience that’s equitable for everyone. We want Project Lighthouse to have an impact beyond Airbnb, so we’re sharing the methodology behind it in a publicly available technical paper. We hope the paper will serve as a blueprint for other companies, and that it can be a starting point for further innovations that rigorously measure discrimination while upholding user privacy.

What has Airbnb done so far to address discrimination?
In the last few years, we’ve made several changes to Airbnb to help fight discrimination, including:

  • Our nondiscrimination policy: Everyone who uses Airbnb must agree to our Community Commitment and nondiscrimination policy. If you’ve experienced discrimination, we’ll investigate the issue, take action, and if needed, help you find another place to stay.
  • Profile photo protections: We all have bias. But companies like Airbnb can do more to create tools that help prevent people from making biased decisions. That’s why guests’ profile photos aren’t displayed to hosts until after a booking is confirmed, which encourages more objective decision making by hosts.
  • Objective bookings: Instant Book allows a listing to be booked immediately, making the process easier for hosts and ensuring the process is objective for guests. Millions of listings can be booked this way, with more being added all the time.
  • A dedicated anti-discrimination team: Airbnb has a specialized team dedicated to making changes to our platform that help prevent and address discrimination, including development of initiatives like Project Lighthouse and profile photo protections.

Project Lighthouse alone won’t end discrimination on our platform, but it’s an important step that can help us identify discrimination that would otherwise go undetected. And it’s just one of many initiatives we’re working on to make Airbnb more fair for everyone.

Thank you for being a member of our community and for working with us to create a world where anyone can belong anywhere.

Information contained in this article may have changed since publication.


  • Project Lighthouse will help us understand when and how racial discrimination happens on Airbnb

  • We’re working with civil rights groups to make sure we take these important steps in a thoughtful way

  • We’re also working with leading privacy organizations to help ensure everyone’s privacy is respected

Jun 15, 2020
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