|A typical Airbnb listing|
Would you use the Internet to make a blind date? To buy a car sight unseen? Send a money order for a few thousand dollars to collect millions of dollars in a sweepstakes you didn't enter?
OK fine, but would you use the Internet to rent your apartment to a perfect stranger?
Believe it or not, people do this every day using Airbnb.com, a site that takes the Web sharing concept to new heights. Basically, Airbnb lets you rent your house or apartment to someone you've never met and whose identity you are not given.
Of course, Airbnb has never met this person either but, taking a page from the dating site playbook, claims it thoroughly checks the references of would-be renters.
It didn't work out so well for a San Francisco blogger known as "EJ." She rented her apartment last month while she was out of town on a business trip. When she returned, the place had been trashed and EJ hastened to the keyboard to describe the damage in chilling detail.
EJ's renters not only trashed the apartment and stole numerous valuables. They also took the time to thoroughly investigate her personal documents, thus gaining access to account numbers and other data useful for future identity theft adventures.
Airbnb dutifully expressed its regrets and vowed to tighten up its procedures going forward and police said they had a suspect in custody.
Now a second Bay Area Airbnb member, Troy Dayton, is telling a similar story, claiming his Oakland apartment was rented three months ago by a drug addict who trashed the place and left it littered with meth pipes, Techcrunch reports.
The latest account calls into question Airbnb's initial claims that EJ's experience was the first it knew of – "our first major incident in over 2 million nights" as the company put it.
Perhaps none of this would be worth the buzz it has generated except that Airbnb is one of the current hot items in the online business. The company raised $112 million recently on an estimated valuation of $1.3 billion – not bad for what amounts to a classified-ad site.
Hoping to rescue its reputation, and valuation, Airbnb now says it will provide $50,000 worth of protection to Airbnb hosts. The company also says it will beef up its user verification profile process and integrate profiles with social sites, allowing hosts to view potential guests prior to agreeing to rent to them.