New York wants AirBnB to Turn Over its Users' Data

Monday, October 07, 2013 - 12:59 PM

Update 3:46PM: Airbnb has now said that they're refusing to comply with the Attorney General's demand. Whoa. This should be interesting. More over at New Tech City.

The New York Attorney General has ordered AirBnb to turn over records for anyone in New York who's ever rented out their apartment on the site. 

This comes as part of a larger fight between Airbnb and New York over whether Airbnb can operate legally in New York state. Technically, it's illegal to rent out your home for short-term stays unless you own it, and most Airbnb users don't own the homes they're renting out. They tend to ignore the law and operate in a quasi-legal area. Historically, it hasn't been a bad bet, since the laws are rarely enforced and currently in flux. But today's subpoena makes the legality of the service look a lot shakier for its users. 

It's unclear then, what exactly the Attorney General's office wants with this data. Airbnb says that the AG only wants to go after "bad hosts," like slumlords or scammers.

We believe the Attorney General is only seeking to target an incredibly small number of bad actors who abuse the Airbnb platform. That’s a goal we all share. Bad actors like illegal hotel operators and slumlords aren’t part of our vision and have no place on Airbnb and we hope we can work with State leaders to weed out these individuals.

Maybe. But the Daily News quotes an anonymous law enforcement source who contradicts that entirely. They say that the AG's request is a strike at Airbnb for not following through quickly enough on their promise to collect a hotel occupancy tax from their users

"The taxes are already on the books, so that's a false promise, and they certainly haven't been cooperating with the investigation, despite their public promises to go after the guys the state is after."

We'll probably know more about what's going on tomorrow, once we know if Airbnb's turned over the data. But on a gut level, the Daily News' story makes more sense to me. If the Attorney General wanted to go after just a few bad actors, it wouldn't make a ton of sense for them to ask for all of Airbnb's data. But if they wanted to intimidate Airbnb into cooperating by freaking out their users, then asking for all the data would be a pretty good strategy. 

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