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Business Management

Airbnb agrees to hand over NYC host data to attorney general

Airbnb fought valiantly, but the end was near: New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman wanted host data, and he was going to get it. The home-rental site on Wednesday agreed to give Schneiderman some of what he asked for, but with several caveats.

To comply with the attorney general's subpoena, which was refiled last week after a New York Supreme Court judge ruled his initial subpoena too broad, Airbnb is handing over host data, but anonymizing all the important parts. If you're a New York City host, here's the information that will be redacted from the report: Your name, email address, phone number, social media accounts, username, host ID, listing ID, apartment number, social security number, tax ID, password information, or any information that would allow someone to find out who you are, where you live, and how to access your account.

So what can the attorney general do without all that information? Well, Schneiderman is on the hunt for Airbnb users who essentially running illegal hotels. Using the anonymized data, the attorney general will be able to see if one person has multiple listings for different units. Airbnb will have to turn over user information if Schneiderman launches an investigation into a host's activities.

In a joint statement released Wednesday, Airbnb and the attorney general's office said the agreement takes into account hosts' privacy concerns:

"Airbnb and the Office of the Attorney General have worked tirelessly over the past six months to come to an agreement that appropriately balances Attorney General Schneiderman's commitment to protecting New York's residents and tourists from illegal hotels with Airbnb's concerns about the privacy of thousands of other hosts. The arrangement we have reached today for compliance with the OAG subpoena strikes this balance."

Airbnb didn't have much of a choice in the matter. Despite its legal victory over Schneiderman last week, the state judge specified that the subpoena was only denied because the attorney general was seeking information on all 15,000 Airbnb hosts in New York. Some cities don't have laws prohibiting short-term rentals, and therefore those hosts wouldn't be breaking the law. After Schneiderman narrowed his subpoena's focus and refiled, Airbnb could either continue to fight a losing battle or try to set the terms of its agreement. It chose the latter.

Airbnb needs to abide by the laws if it's going to find government supporters in New York, where its business is considered a nuisance at best and illegal at worst. The site has worked to get rid of so-called "bad actors" in New York who have used Airbnb to turn an illegal profit, but that wasn't enough for Schneiderman, and it might not be enough to ease lawmakers' pressure on the company.

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