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Airbnb CEO Promises To Battle Racial Discrimination, Unconscious Bias

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Airbnb again stared down the issues of race and discrimination when it kicked off its annual OpenAir tech conference in San Francisco on Wednesday. The home-loaning network is revisiting its platform to find ways to make sure racism doesn't prevent users from returning to visit it, said Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky.

Details weren't plentiful, with regard to what Airbnb intends to do about the problem, though the company has previously said it'd look at how machine learning could help it tackle unconscious bias. But Chesky said the company will look for ways to drive down discrimination on its platform.

"First, let me make it clear that we have zero tolerance for any amount of racism or discrimination on our platform," Chesky said. "Over the next couple months, we're revisiting the design of our platform end to end and look at how we can revisit decisions we've made."

Airbnb followed up the keynote's message about inclusion by hosting a series of panels to keep the conversation going. It's a conversation Airbnb has been engaged in for weeks now.

The 8-year-old company behind the popular home loaning network has relied on peer reviews and recommendation to find success with its model, in which users rent and book spaces in private residences.

The platform's user profiles and reviews may be some of the major factors complicating Airbnb's efforts to battle discrimination.

Hosts and guests alike rely on as much detail about each other as possible to gain peace of mind when using the platform, but that same information can be used to spew racist drivel and ultimately get banned from the platform after the incident goes viral.

Just over a week ago, Chesky reported that his company had removed an Airbnb host that canceled a woman's reservation at his home because he's white; she's black; and his North Carolina house is in the south. An Airbnb spokesperson told Buzzfeed that the company was "horrified" by what happened.

"The language and conduct are unacceptable and violate both our policies and everything we believe in," the spokesperson said. "This host has been removed from Airbnb and we've reached out to the guest to offer our full and complete support, including ensuring the guest has a safe place to stay."

About a month ago, the company responded, in an open letter, to other reports of racial discrimination and vowed to look at ways to "eliminate unconscious bias in the Airbnb community."

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