Injury or death at your home-share? Airbnb isn’t at fault; how predatory payday lenders hide online; and more.
First, the bad news: While home-renting “home-sharing” start-up Airbnb has taken steps to protect hosts from unruly guests, it’s done little to protect guests from unsafe hosts beyond inviting them to down-rate them after a bad experience. Writing for Medium’s Matter section, Zak Stone tells the harrowing story of his father’s untimely death trying out a tree swing at an Airbnb rental (the tree was rotten to the core and fell on him), pointing out that the company “disclaims all liability” and does nothing to insure that its hosts’ properties are safe, unlike traditional B&B services. Stone makes a damning indictment, pointing out that the company has been willing to spend money on improving what their hosts do when it fits its business model. He notes that it figured out early on that ugly photos of its listing in New York City were keeping guests away, so it invested in hiring professional photographers to document properties for free. He writes:
Of course, were Airbnb to invest in safety requirements by offering home inspections or by analyzing photo content to target higher-risk properties and features (pools, saunas, trampolines, etc.) with site-specific safety recommendations, such a program could be far more costly, and might jeopardize Airbnb’s covetable neutrality as a platform. The irony is that amateur innkeepers who couldn’t be trusted with the banal task of photographing and marketing their properties are expected to excel at hospitality’s most important rule: keeping guests safe and alive. The result: Airbnb is willing to send someone to make sure your trees look beautiful in their photos, but won’t deal with whether or not those trees will fall on your head.
While predatory payday lenders have been pushed into the shadows by statewide crackdowns, Jack Smith IV of Mic.com reports on a new study from the civil rights data consulting firm Upturn that how “they hide on the other end of Google searches, waiting for terms like ‘need help paying rent’ to offer their services.” He notes that Facebook bans all payday loan ads, while Google’s approach is more porous.
A new joint report from the Center for Public Integrity and Global Integrity finds that “secrecy, corruption, and conflicts of interest pervade state governments” in America. The report scored each state across hundreds of variables related to the transparency and accountability of its government. (Full disclosure: I was a reviewer for the New York state section.)
Next, some good news: If anyone tells you that outside-the-Beltway grassroots organizing doesn’t work anymore, read this very timely piece by Ben Adler on how climate change activists from Canada’s First Nations and Nebraska’s rancher community and the 350.org digital network built the five-year campaign that on Friday, with President Obama’s announcement, stopped the Keystone XL pipeline.
Writing for the Harvard Business Review, longtime tech guru Doc Searls explains why ad blocking is on the rise and the adtech industry (read: microtargeting) is about to crash.
Little noticed victory from Election Day: 44 cities, towns and counties in Colorado passed referenda giving themselves the authority to build their own community broadband networks, Jon Brodkin reports for Ars Technica.
A new Democratic voter registration group called iVote, led by Obama campaign organizing veteran Jeremy Bird, is pushing to make voter registration automatic when people update their driver’s licenses, Michael Shear reports for the New York Times.
The New York Times rolled out its “virtual reality” journalism initiative Sunday, delivering free Google Cardboard viewers to its paper subscribers and publishing a multimedia report on child refugees around the world. The effort is very impressive, but am I the only person who wishes they called it “immersive reality”? (This ain’t Second Life, after all.)
President Obama’s digital team, led by Jason Goldman and Kori Schulman, is hard at work building a personal online identity for the president, Julie Hirschfeld Davis reports for the New York Times.
This is civic tech: Civic Hall member Joel Natividad and his company Ontodia has announced the launch of its “Civic Dashboards” product, which includes a data portal, performance management tools, analytics-as-a-service with built-in templates for tools like crime maps, economic activity tracking and open source civic-tech projects.
Accela’s Mark Headd offers some deep thoughts on the development of “government as a platform” ten years after Tim O’Reilly first popularized the concept, and argues that rather than expecting governments to plan, develop and maintain big, expensive APIs, we should focus instead on building microservices.
The new director of the Sunlight Foundation’s Sunlight Labs is Kat Duffy, who was previously at the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor where she designed and oversaw a grant portfolio that emphasized “data visualization, tool development for independent media organizations, customized application adaptation and end-user assessments, software localization, and support for internet freedom and open data advocacy initiatives,” the foundation announced Friday. Welcome Kat!