mfioretti: airbnb*

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  1. A May 2014 White House report on “big data” notes that the ability to determine the demographic traits of individuals through algorithms and aggregation of online data has a potential downside beyond just privacy concerns: Systematic discrimination.

    There is a long history of denying access to bank credit and other financial services based on the communities from which applicants come — a practice called “redlining.” Likewise, the report warns, “Just as neighborhoods can serve as a proxy for racial or ethnic identity, there are new worries that big data technologies could be used to ‘digitally redline’ unwanted groups, either as customers, employees, tenants or recipients of credit.” (See materials from the report’s related research conference for scholars’ views on this and other issues.)

    One vexing problem, according to the report, is that potential digital discrimination is even less likely to be pinpointed, and therefore remedied.

    Approached without care, data mining can reproduce existing patterns of discrimination, inherit the prejudice of prior decision-makers, or simply reflect the widespread biases that persist in society. It can even have the perverse result of exacerbating existing inequalities by suggesting that historically disadvantaged groups actually deserve less favorable treatment.” The paper’s authors argue that the most likely legal basis for anti-discrimination enforcement, Title VII, is not currently adequate to stop many forms of discriminatory data mining, and “society does not have a ready answer for what to do about it.”

    Their 2014 paper “Digital Discrimination: The Case of” examined listings for thousands of New York City landlords in mid-2012. Airbnb builds up a reputation system by allowing ratings from guests and hosts.

    The study’s findings include:

    “The raw data show that non-black and black hosts receive strikingly different rents: roughly $144 versus $107 per night, on average.” However, the researchers had to control for a variety of factors that might skew an accurate comparison, such as differences in geographical location.
    “Controlling for all of these factors, non-black hosts earn roughly 12% more for a similar apartment with similar ratings and photos relative to black hosts.”
    “Despite the potential of the Internet to reduce discrimination, our results suggest that social platforms such as Airbnb may have the opposite effect. Full of salient pictures and social profiles, these platforms make it easy to discriminate — as evidenced by the significant penalty faced by a black host trying to conduct business on Airbnb.”

    “Given Airbnb’s careful consideration of what information is available to guests and hosts,” Edelman and Luca note. “Airbnb might consider eliminating or reducing the prominence of host photos: It is not immediately obvious what beneficial information these photos provide, while they risk facilitating discrimination by guests. Particularly when a guest will be renting an entire property, the guest’s interaction with the host will be quite limited, and we see no real need for Airbnb to highlight the host’s picture.” (For its part, Airbnb responded to the study by saying that it prohibits discrimination in its terms of service, and that the data analyzed were both older and limited geographically.)
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  2. As many as 30 percent of the available apartments in neighborhoods like the Mission have been taken off the market and used for short-terms rentals through platforms like Airbnb, a city study shows.

    There’s also a close correlation between then number of Airbnb rentals and the number of evictions, the report shows.

    The study by the Board of Supervisors Budget Analyst confirms what nearly every tenant advocate in the city has been saying for months: The regulatory legislation by then-Sup. David Chiu, which passed last year with the support of Mayor Ed Lee, has been a complete failure.

    The report makes a key distinction between “casual” short-term rentals – places where existing residents occasionally rent out a room in their home to visitors – and “commercial” rentals – apartments or houses that have been converted almost entirely to hotel rooms.

    If an entire place is listed on Airbnb for more than 59 nights a year, the Budget Analyst defined it as a commercial operation. For private and shared rooms in a place where a resident lives, the threshold was 89 nights a year.

    It’s impossible to know exactly how many units are rented out through Airbnb, VRBO, Flipkey or other services, since those hosting platforms refuse to release that date.
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  3. Chiamato a palliare le conseguenze di un sistema in crisi, il modello sembra invece favorire le stesse logiche speculative che hanno trasformato la città postindustriale, dietro le accattivanti suggestioni della Creative e della Smart City, in un generatore di rendite. La Sharing City di Airbnb non fa altro che spingere, dietro la retorica comunitaria, verso un’ulteriore deregolamentazione del mercato immobiliare in un momento storico dove la questione abitativa è tornata di drammatica attualità. Una proposta nella migliore tradizione neoliberista che, se da un lato consente effettivamente di ampliare il numero di attori all’interno del mercato turistico, dall’altro beneficia soprattutto i soliti noti: il settore immobiliare e il capitale finanziario internazionale. Ciò a discapito di chi non può o semplicemente non vuole entrare nella community ma è tenuto a confrontarsi con l’iniqua concorrenza del mercato turistico, rendendo così ancor più netta la geografia della diseguaglianza socio-economica della città. Insomma, l’idea di un modello win-win dove tutti hanno da guadagnarci, del “welfare gestito dall’iniziativa privata”, non convince anche perché ad esserne escluse sarebbero proprio le fasce più bisognose, quelle che una o più rendite da far fruttare non hanno. Se l’intenzione rimane quella di ridistribuire la ricchezza prodotta dal turismo e gestirne le esternalità, allora la fiscalizzazione e la pianificazione delle attività turistiche diventano il vero strumento in mano alla comunità. Bisogna pensarci bene, una volta accolto e legittimato il modello Airbnb, non si torna più indietro.
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  4. The public doesn’t need a middleman for sharing-economy services, but it does need to make sure they are regulated

    So-called sharing-economy companies such as Uber, Airbnb and Task Rabbit are posing policy headaches for governments around the world. Their argument that they should be exempt from existing regulations because their services are ordered over the Web does not make much sense, but it provides a fig leaf for politicians seeking campaign contributions from these highly capitalized newcomers.

    Part of the response to the innovations associated with these companies should be to modernize regulations. It is reasonable to regulate taxi services in ways that ensure that cars are safe and drivers are competent and responsible. It is also reasonable to regulate rented rooms to ensure they are not fire traps. Similarly, both should be regulated in ways that ensure access to the handicapped and prevent discrimination. In addition, employees in these companies should be covered by workers’ compensation and protected by minimum wage and overtime rules.

    These efforts will require a rewriting of existing regulations, many of which were put in place to protect the existing companies in the industry rather than serve a legitimate public purpose. This sort of modernization is clearly a doable task from a technical standpoint, although sharing-economy companies will undoubtedly use their money to try to block the imposition of rules that put them on an equal footing with their old-fashioned competitors.

    For example, a taxi service could allow for drivers to register in the same way as they do for Uber and Lyft. Customers could use an app to order their services just as they do with Uber and Lyft. The difference would be that the public service would likely take out a lower share of the fare than its for-profit competitors. If its design were effective, only drivers who felt like being ripped off would work for Uber and Lyft.

    In addition, a public service could directly apply standards to providers as a condition of participating. Cab drivers would have to meet licensing standards, and their cars would have to pass inspection. And they would have to arrange insurance for both car and driver. A public version of Airbnb could require that potential renters had their rooms inspected for fire safety and provide copies of leases or condo agreements to ensure that these were not being violated by renting out rooms or whole units.

    A nonprofit in England (with the unfortunate name Beyond Jobs) has established an open-source program for many of these purposes. This system may not be fully up to the job, but it should provide a basis from which to work.

    In addition to cutting out the middleman and ensuring that necessary standards are met, a public service could provide other important benefits. Most notably, it could ensure that customer reviews are the property of the service provider. As it stands, the reviews are typically the property of the company.

    This means if an Uber driver has established himself as a safe and reliable driver, he can’t use his recommendations with another service. The same would be the case with someone renting out a room or apartment through Airbnb. This issue is perhaps most important with labor-service providers such as Task Rabbit. If workers have established themselves as reliable electricians, plumbers or child-care providers, they should be able to carry their records with them. While Task Rabbit and comparable services may not allow such transfers, a public system could assure workers of transferrable recommendations.

    Another great feature of the public option route is that it can be implemented at the local level. There is no need to worry about an intransigent Congress or even hostile state legislators. Any city with a substantial progressive base should be able to take the initiative to set up its own public sharing-economy system. Such systems could be linked among cities — which could be especially helpful in the case of competing with Airbnb.
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  5. Last week, a new class action complaint was filed against the company over Uber’s failure to secure drivers’ data in a breach. In another court, a Northern California district judge ruled that a jury will decide if Uber’s drivers should be classified as independent contractors or employees. And, earlier this month, a Memphis transportation company sued Uber and Lyft for operating without proper licensing and insurance. Similar suits have been filed in Miami, Philadelphia, Atlanta, and Houston.

    The five-year-old, multibillion-dollar company’s troubles don’t stop there. Uber faces a continuous onslaught of litigation in the US for stiffing drivers, swindling taxi companies, eschewing traditional insurance obligations, and skirting regulations—or so the drivers, companies, and state or district attorneys say.

    when it comes to litigation, Uber and other sharing economy startups are different from the Googles and Facebooks of the last startup wave. Because unlike search or social media, Uber, Lyft, Airbnb, and even Instacart operate both on our phones and on the streets. We sit in Uber cars, we walk past them on the street, and we use our phones to flag down their drivers—so some of the litigation facing Uber has to do with “real-life” problems, like injured passengers or bystanders from car accidents.

    Uber is also competing with entrenched taxi and limo companies, which means there’s already a robust regulatory infrastructure standing by to issue licenses, mandate insurance, and police new companies.
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2015-03-19)
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  6. Airbnb, Uber, Blablacar and others are not behind the substitution of independent SMEs for the industrial fabric of big businesses whose decomposition is gutting the productivity of cities. In fact, as Bruce Sterling pointed out, by promoting highly centralized models, these business fit into and promote the worst of “smart cities,” deepening precariousness and taking sovereignty from people and the city as a whole. As Sterling asked, “do you think San Francisco or any big American city would let its new taxi system be run by a business located in Barcelona?”

    is the “sharing economy” bad?

    car sharingNo. Absolutely not. It’s just that we must distinguish, and not accept the lies of the “hype” uncritically or in all cases. There are models of couch-surfing that really are communal, and do not create the disasters of Airbnb. There are models of car sharing that don’t try to sell themselves as an alternative mode of production and that were able to evolve from the commons to a business, and from there, be integrated into public services, helping to reduce traffic. Because in reality, the main contribution of the “sharing economy” is to transmit a culture of efficient use of durable consumer goods.

    So, I think it is necessary to put the “sharing economy” in context, not to lose the critical view of the talk about their businesses, and above all, not forget that if they contribute to changes of real importance, it won’t be because they tried to be more than they really are, but by taking on a deeper perspective.
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  7. “I cinesi non vengono in Italia, i cinesi vengono in quattro città italiane: è diverso”. Di big data e turismo si è molto discusso a BTO (Buy Tourism Online) lo scorso dicembre: questo il tweet con più retweet dell’intera manifestazione, a dimostrazione dell’interesse suscitato dall’intervento di Euro Beinat, professore di geoinformatica dell’Università di Salisburgo.
    Illustrazione di Morgan Schweitzer. Fonte:

    Illustrazione di Morgan Schweitzer. Fonte:

    Analizzando social media e dati telefonici si può vedere (letteralmente, in un’animazione video) che i turisti cinesi visitano Venezia, Milano, Firenze e Roma mentre sono praticamente assenti nelle altre città o regioni italiane. Analogamente si scopre che i turisti tedeschi, presenti più diffusamente, hanno comunque una forte preferenza per Milano, il nord-est e l’alta costa adriatica. Ad Amsterdam un’altra ricerca ha evidenziato che solo il 14% dei turisti che visitano la città si spingono, poi, nelle località limitrofe. In particolare, francesi e spagnoli sono i più propensi a visitare i dintorni mentre inglesi e danesi sembrano essere i meno interessati

    Le statistiche basate su arrivi e presenze nelle strutture ricettive, oltre ad essere disponibili spesso con troppi mesi di ritardo, molto nascondono del reale impatto. Esiste, per esempio, un turismo di prossimità che pesa economicamente su ristorazione, trasporti o musei, ma sfugge dai metodi di rilevazione tradizionali. Esistono nuove forme non più marginali di ricettività – Couchsurfing, Airbnb, Home Exchange, Love Home Swap – spesso non contemplate nelle statistiche ufficiali. Gli osservatori sul turismo producono prevalentemente dati statici difficilmente traducibili in itinerari o consumi effettivi: manca il carattere predittivo e l’analisi qualitativa dei comportamenti, che invece i big data, se opportunamente interrogati, sanno restituire.

    I nostri comportamenti quotidiani hanno ormai una qualche forma d’intermediazione digitale che alimenta, continuamente ed esponenzialmente, un flusso di dati che è possibile – anzi doveroso – interrogare per migliorare l’offerta e rispondere alla complessità della domanda.
    Tags: , , , by M. Fioretti (2015-02-02)
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  8. The best adjective to describe this kind of movement is totalitarian. As the Czech novelist Milan Kundera put it, “Totalitarianism is not only hell, but also the dream of paradise.” So my bid to watch your dog while you’re on vacation—and yours to drive me to the airport—is at once freeing and full of dangers. Who’s responsible if your dog bites my kid while in my care? What kind of car insurance, training and licensing do you need to shuttle me safely? What, if anything, do we owe to the kennel workers and cabbies who lose work? And who decides how we govern all of this?

    There are so many potential conflicts—along professional, political, commercial, geographic, generational and gender lines—posed by sharing that I couldn’t list them here. To pick just one more: sharing is a threat to the general plans of virtually every city. After all, what is Airbnb if not a rezoning of residential areas into hotel space?

    Of course, the movement doesn’t see itself as a starter of wars—and that may be its biggest weakness. Instead of recognizing the conflict and anger that could be produced by their efforts to transform the world, cheerleaders of the sharing economy celebrate its “disruptive” power—as well as its “sustainability.”

    our political system, with its low voter participation and big money, simply can’t produce definitive, legitimate answers on the big new policy questions posed by all this sharing.

    For all its promise, the sharing economy threatens to turn virtually every aspect of living into contested ground. And that’s no way to live.
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  9. Uber è un’applicazione che consente agli utenti di collegarsi con un’auto NCC (Noleggio Con Conducente). Il problema si solleva in realtà dalla sua declinazione successiva, cioè UberPop che consentirebbe a privati di poter offrire passaggi quasi con le stesse modalità di un taxi, stabilendo preventivamente il percorso e il prezzo tramite app.

    Un servizio del genere rienta appieno in quella che viene definita sharing economy: come scrive Francesca Battistoni su Smart Innovation «è una nuova economia che sta nascendo e che sfrutta le nuove tecnologie per proporre forme antiche come il baratto e lo scambio, le porta su una scala più ampia reinventandole e dando una possibilità maggiore di utilizzo. Sono pratiche che favoriscono l’uso e lo sfruttamento del bene privilegiando il riuso piuttosto che l’acquisto e l’accesso piuttosto che la proprietà».

    Rientrano in questo tipo di economia piattaforme popolari come AirBnB, portale online che mette in contatto persone che cercano un alloggio a breve termine con altre persone che hanno uno spazio extra da affittare, o Car2Go, servizio di Car Sharing privato che ha battuto l’analogo servizio del Comune di Roma, la discussa UberPoP e moltissime altre.
    Proprio in relazione a AirBnB, Gianni Dominici, presidente di Forum PA, ha rilasciato delle dichiarazioni molto favorevoli a proposito della sharing economy sulle pagine di TechEconomy: “il cittadino può e deve creare valore e servizi come sta accadendo con Airbnb: si stima che a New York, regolamentando l’attività con una ritenuta alla fonte e con regole precise per la locazione per scongiurare attività in nero, nelle casse del comune arriverebbero 20 milioni di dollari nel solo 2014, cifra che equivale a tutte le politiche di social housing previste dalla città.”
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  10. The same story may apply with Uber. Uber is currently in disputes with regulators over whether its cars meet the safety and insurance requirements imposed on standard taxis. Also, many cities impose some restrictions on the number of cabs in the hopes of ensuring a minimum level of earnings for drivers, but if Uber and related services (like Lyft) flood the market, they could harm all drivers' ability to earn even minimum wage.

    This downside of the sharing needs to be taken seriously, but that doesn't mean the current tax and regulatory structure is perfect. Many existing regulations should be changed, as they were originally designed to serve narrow interests and/or have outlived their usefulness. But it doesn't make sense to essentially exempt entire classes of business from safety regulations or taxes just because they provide their services over the Internet.
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