Airbnb is inviting neighbors to become Peeping Toms

The Japan head of Airbnb says a new feature will allow neighbors to report on Airbnb guests' behavior. 


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The next time you rent a room through Airbnb, remember that you can’t let it rip just because the owner isn’t around: The neighbors might be keeping an eye on you during your vacation. The lodging listing company announced earlier this week that it will roll out a new feature that invites residents to report on the behavior of guests who are staying at nearby homes.

It’s not clear who will have access to this information, apart from Airbnb staff, which will then address complaints and concerns. But it’s understandable why the service would ask neighbors to become spies and Peeping Toms: When renters go bad, they go very bad. New Yorker Ari Teman, for instance, returned to his apartment to find an orgy in progress, and Rachel Bassini’s East Village penthouse was epically trashed during a wild party thrown by guests. Had their neighbors been able to file complaints with Airbnb at the time, perhaps the damage would have been less extensive.

Interestingly, the announcement of the new feature was made in Tokyo by Airbnb’s Japanese head. The company’s initial foray into the island nation was seen as somewhat precarious: As the New York Times described last year, Japanese culture is fairly insular and risk-averse, which means locals are more reluctant to welcome strangers into their homes than the citizens of many other countries might be. (The same piece questioned then whether Airbnb would be a success in Japan.) Today, a search for a room for two in Tokyo for later this month—the height of the city’s cherry blossom season—leads to hundreds of options. And CNN Money recently reported that the number of Airbnb guests in Japan jumped by 500 percent in 2015. Though it’s a bit surprising that Japanese hosts have taken to the service given general preferences for privacy—Japanese etiquette draws distinctions between behavior with "in-group" and "out-group" people—it makes sense that home sharing is an appealing route for foreign tourists, who are increasingly visiting the country in the lead-up to its 2020 Olympics. Densely populated Japan, where fluent English speakers are scarce compared to European countries, can be intimidating to navigate on one’s own. (Note: This writer lived in Japan for three years and wrote a piece for Brick about it.

Yasuyuki Tanabe, Japan’s Airbnb head, explained at the Tokyo announcement, “One of the most important issues facing the sharing economy is how the people choosing to take part in it co-exist with those that aren’t.” The new feature will give such people the chance to offer feedback, he continued, which may help to appease neighbors in Japan. Whether New Yorkers—who often seem to prefer avoiding neighbors and their business at all costs—will opt for this route remains to be seen.


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