Airbnb mobilizes customers in dogfight over regulation in California

In a conference call with its customers Monday night, online vacation rental company Airbnb explained its concerns with pending state regulations. The company then offered to patch callers through to their state senators to leave messages opposing Senate Bill 593.

The escalating Airbnb regulatory battle is beginning to resemble last year’s Uber dogfight, with another sharing economy megafirm urging customers to call state legislators, author op-eds in local newspapers and testify at Capitol hearings. Airbnb hasn’t yet gone full Uber, but it’s still early in the legislative session.

The legislation in question is backed by California cities, counties and police chiefs. It would force the company to disclose to local authorities which households are using the service, what nights visitors are staying and how much they are paying. The bill also requires Airbnb to bar hosts in areas that prohibit short-term rentals.

Airbnb argues the host data is private, and it’s inappropriate for a company to police its users on behalf of the government.

State Sen. Mike McGuire, author of the bill, offered his rebuttal Tuesday. Airbnb’s “policing” argument is bogus because the company already adheres to similar rules in towns such as Sausalito and Seal Beach, he said. The lawmaker thinks the company simply doesn’t want to extend those practices statewide.

“They could implement this rather quickly if they chose to come to the table,” said McGuire, a Healdsburg Democrat.
The company’s other concern, that it’s inappropriate to share customer data with the government, also is specious, said McGuire. Airbnb already warns hosts in its terms of service that the company has the ability to turn that information over to a third party. This new rule constitutes a legitimate form of data sharing, he said.

A Capitol staffer familiar with the situation said that Airbnb has privately indicated that its primary concern is having its competitors access the data and use them for a competitive advantage. A revised version of Senate Bill 593 attempts to make that information as confidential as possible, said the staffer.

The legislation is up Wednesday in a Senate fiscal committee.