Airbnb is a marquee company of the so-called sharing economy, but that doesn’t mean it wants to share its own stuff.
Sharing-economy companies employ technology that enables individuals to transform personal assets into profit-making entities. Uber and Lyft enable cars to become taxis. Airbnb turns apartments into hotel rooms.
What they don’t typically do is enter the thicket of licensing and regulatory issues that entangle traditional taxi and hotel businesses. In many cases, complying with some rules, like telling who used what asset for how long, would be much easier for the sharing companies, since they have a digital trail of every participant’s actions in their networks.
There are signs that may be changing, at least in certain cases. As Katie Benner reports, Airbnb has proposed to New York City officials that it create a registry of hosts and have a hotline that neighbors of an Airbnb host can call with complaints.
It was not a move Airbnb made easily. On Tuesday, the New York State governor, Andrew Cuomo, received a bill that would fine people who rent out their apartments on a short-term basis. The fines start at $1,000 and run as high as $7,500 for a third offense. Mr. Cuomo has until Oct. 29 to veto it or let it become law.
Proponents of the bill said Airbnb’s offer of a registry was intended to stop the bill’s enactment. Airbnb also called on people listing on the service to call or tweet their protests to the governor. In a call with reporters, an Airbnb spokesman portrayed his company, valued at $30 billion, as a champion of the little guy against big government.
There is something to that, after a fashion. In New York, or for that matter in any of the more than 34,000 cities in 191 countries where it has listings, Airbnb could easily provide regulators with a list of the most heavily rented locations, the people or entities listing the most apartments, and the individuals making the most money.
If it were to do that, however, it would also put itself in a position to identify everyone committing — in a place like New York — a legal violation. That doubtless includes a lot of ordinary people making a couple of extra bucks from a vacant room.
Just as likely, it would expose Airbnb’s biggest revenue generators, and possibly give its competitors lots of valuable data.
How does this get fixed? Probably through some kind of compromise, where government accepts that sharing companies are here to stay, and sharing companies accept the responsibility of being a durable part of the economy.