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Airbnb Vows to Root Out Racism, but Blocks Ability to Sue

Airbnb has responded to complaints from some users that they've had trouble booking rooms on the popular online vacation-rental site because of their race. The evidence isn't just anecdotal, either; in December, Harvard University (PDF) researchers found that guests with African-American-sounding names had a difficult time renting rooms through the site.

Now Airbnb vows to weed out hosts who violate its antidiscrimination policies, but, as the New York Times points out, users are blocked from pressuring the company by bringing any litigation, thanks to a "class-action waiver" all Airbnb users have to agree to. To use the service, in other words, you have to promise not to sue or join any class-action litigation—measures that have proven effective in the past when it comes to forcing companies to change their discrimination policies. 

Instead, Airbnb is pursuing a kind of market-driven self-policing. As the company expands and presents itself as an alternative to hotels, it needs to persuade minorities that they're as protected against discrimination as they are at big hotel chains. And that might have to happen without a nudge from the courts.