When guests stay in short-term rentals, they shouldn't have to worry that hosts might be sharing their intimate photos and personal information on Facebook, whether it be in nominally private groups or not. Airbnb, Vrbo, Facebook, and others need to be more vigilant so that their hosts aren't violating privacy policies on their platforms or elsewhere.
Short-term rental guests expect a modicum of privacy when they message hosts or stay in an apartment or vacation rental booked through Airbnb or Expedia’s Vrbo, but too often, under the cover of closed Facebook groups, hosts share highly intimate and otherwise intrusive details, including photos, full names, and the sexual habits of their guests.
In nominally private Facebook groups such as Airbnb Host Community — Vent, Recommend, and Discuss, and Airbnb Guests Blacklist, hosts post photos with full names of guests behaving badly or those whom they consider to be problems. They also rant about not wanting to rent to guests who are Chinese, people who are more than 70 years old, retired women travelers, and other groups, for example.
In violating guests’ privacy, hosts regularly post private guest-host messages sent through Airbnb on these Facebook closed groups, which have thousands of members.
Skift asked Facebook Wednesday afternoon about Airbnb Host Community, which is unaffiliated with Airbnb and is run by AirHost Academy, and Airbnb Guests Blacklist, and within hours Facebook shut down Airbnb Guests Blacklist. Facebook is investigating Airbnb Host Community with an eye toward removing any postings that violate Facebook’s policies.
Facebook declined to comment about these groups.
The purpose of Facebook’s Airbnb Guests Blacklist, before its sudden death, was to be a searchable database of “bad guests” from all of the major booking sites, including Airbnb, HomeAway, Vrbo, Booking.com, TripAdvisor, and others. The group, which had nearly 8,000 members, was designed for “active hosts only,” who had to provide a rental listing when requesting permission to join.
“When you post, please give as much details about the incident as well as searchable personal information about this guest or members of their group as much as possible so future hosts can use this to make better judgments on whether to accept a booking or not,” Airbnb Guests Blacklist told potential members.
Airbnb Host Community describes itself as “the most active and supportive short-term rental community on Facebook for Airbnb hosts! Ask questions, vent frustrations, share stories, and get tips & advice!”
Skift obtained screenshots shared in both of the Facebook groups from travel blogger Matthew Kepnes, known as Nomadic Matt, who received them from a group member upset with the activity. Some of the posts are still live while others have been removed by moderators.
Outing Short-Term Rental Guests
In one of the more egregious examples, host Patty Culliton, as a superhost who lists her Wisconsin luxury rental on both Airbnb and Vrbo, posted a photo of a guest, whom she named, to Airbnb Guests Blacklist’s nearly 8,000 members, and described it as showing the woman relieving herself in the backyard. The guest made the booking through Vrbo/HomeAway, according to the host.
“One of the bathrooms is very near the door to the rear deck where the hot tub is,” Culliton wrote, “and yet these pigs cannot bother going inside to use the toilet and are peeing all over my yard.”
In this story, when posting photos, comments, and messages between hosts and guests, Skift chose not to reveal the identity of guests.
While hosts who post such photos in closed Facebook groups might expect that these images won’t go to the wider public — they are being shared with thousands of hosts, who may decide to share them with their friends or a broader audience.
Culliton declined to comment when Skift reached out to her.
For its part, Vrbo, when informed about the practices of these Facebook groups — and there are others, such as Airbnb Whole Home Hosts —said: “We are constantly reviewing our security and privacy policies to protect both travelers and homeowners. Whenever we receive complaints about privacy or discrimination violations, we will investigate and reserve the right to remove anyone from the site.”
Vrbo said guests are free to file complaints, and cited its “trust and safety” policies here. But this assumes that guests find out that their personal information is being shared with thousands of hosts, and other people who get permission to join these Facebook groups.
A host who identifies herself as Carolina Fernandez posted a photo of a guest, whom she named, from Ontario, and urged hosts not to rent to her. “She came for a few hours to basically do kinky sex with some old man, Fernandez wrote. “She used wax and ropes. Wax everywhere and on the towels, floors, and bed sheet. With all of those candles should (sic) could have burnt our home.”
In an example from AirHost Academy’s Facebook group, Airbnb Host Community — Vent, Recommend, and Discuss, host Hector Graxirena posted a photo, profile, and private message from a potential guest from the Philippines, who inquired: “Hi. I would like to know if it’s fine if I will bring a guy in one of my stays? Just in case I was able to hook up with any guys there? Thanks.”
Graxirena wrote in the Airbnb Host Community group, “So I go into the app and I see this crap. I’m like ‘Seriously Lil’ Dude…like wtf? My finger went into the Decline button so fast that it felt like my ex-wife was calling. LMAO.” Graxirena didn’t reply to a Skift request for comment.
Someone posted a photo in Airbnb Host Community of an Airbnb guest, identified by his first name, who posted an “awful review” allegedly in retaliation for a payment dispute.
What followed was a robust discussion in the Facebook group over the guest’s appearance and whether hosts should rent to someone who looks like that.
Airbnb host Mika Wabisaby wrote: “Wooow with that picture and I wouldn’t rent. He looks snobby and demanding. I am sorry you have to go through all this. I hope you can get the reviews deleted…”
Then Tory Zenkewich added: “I’ve never had good hosting experience with anyone sporting a duck face in their profile picture.”
We also viewed numerous guest-host private messages — at least they were supposed to be — that hosts posted in Airbnb Host Community.
For example, host Tanya Renaud posted a message from a guest, whom she identified by her first name (Skift cropped it out of the image), wondering if she could pay $190 at that time, and then the rest when the guest receives her next paycheck.
Then there’s a text message that host Bridget Brick posted from a guest, using his first name, who explained that he had to cancel because “my friend I was coming to visit just got picked up by the police last night and extradited back to Portland, Oregon.”
Airbnb host Karen Butler posted in Airbnb Host Community a private message from a woman who was identified by her first name and last-name initial, inquiring whether she could bring an emotional support animal to the home.
Butler posted the private message to group members, and commented: “Not sure what to do in this case. I have a no pet policy and this chick has an ESA (Emotional Support Animal) cat … and its brother. 2 cats in a 300-sq.-foot suite is too much. I know Airbnb says we can’t turn away an ESA, but the second cat isn’t. I want to decline but do you think I’m clear on this one?”
For its part, AirHost Academy, which hosts the Airbnb Host Community Facebook group, which has no ties to Airbnb, said it attempts to police the content and remove offending posts. Some of the above posts have been removed, some haven’t.
“We work to take down any post that violates the terms and conditions of Airbnb or privacy rights of guests, and certainly don’t think posts like this are appropriate,” AirHost Academy responded to Skift when questioned about some of the offending material. “Any group members who post this content will be blocked from our community.”
Skift viewed other discussions among hosts in these groups advocating to forego renting to Chinese people because they allegedly leave critical reviews, avoid guests more than 70 years old, and shun women traveling in groups.
One Airbnb Plus host in Los Angeles, Rene J. De Blanco, whose LinkedIn profile identifies him as working at “the Ritz Carlton of vacation rentals, the Plum Guide,” shared a photo and identified a guest from the Netherlands. De Blanco alleged that the guest clogged his toilet, falsely claimed it was dirty, and canceled a long-term stay.
He threatened to write “a detailed review” about the guest, adding “I may even have someone send an anonymous link to her employer.” The Plum Guide and De Blanco did not respond to Skift requests for comment.
Many of the privacy transgressions in this article were carried out by hosts who list on Airbnb, Vrbo, and other platforms — although they took place largely on Facebook.
When asked for comment, Ben Breit, who heads trust and safety communications for Airbnb in the Americas, pointed to the company’s community standards policy and its security section that states: “You should not access others’ accounts without authorization or violate others’ privacy, copyrights, or trademarks.”
The fairness section states: “You should not share personal information to shame or blackmail others, target others with unwanted behavior, defame others, or violate our review and content standards.”
Brett said Airbnb will review the examples in this story to see if they violate Airbnb’s community standards.
Best Practices Versus Privacy Sins
To be sure, hosts need to find ways to share best practices and experiences, but they shouldn’t do so by trampling on the privacy rights of guests and potential guests. When you post personal information in a Facebook group with thousands of people, whether they be hosts or others, that is not protecting people’s privacy. That’s especially so when any of these Facebook group members have the means to share the reputation-damaging information wherever they wish.
We don’t want to mischaracterize these Facebook groups and the way hosts talk about their guests. There are many heartwarming stories in these Facebook groups about selfless guests who helped hosts out of jams or who were just stellar in their behavior.
But at the same time, short-term rental hosts should not feel empowered to totally trample on the privacy rights of guests — even if some of them undoubtedly behaved very badly.
This is a reality-check for guests as well who don’t expect to have to cope with such privacy hassles when they stay at a professionally run hotel.
And the platforms, including Airbnb, Vrbo, Facebook, and others need to do more to ensure that their users don’t stomp on the rights of short-term rental guests whether it be on their particular platforms or elsewhere.
CORRECTION: The story has been updated to remove mention and a screenshot of an Airbnb host who posted about the advantages of using a browser extension, AirReview. It enables hosts to view guests reviews all in one place, and does not facilitate discrimination as it does not display guests’ profile photos.
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Photo credit: An Airbnb for Work guest walks toward a rental. Hosts in private Facebook groups have been violating guests' privacy. Airbnb