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Internet Association Sides With Airbnb In NY Privacy Battle
Posted Nov 8, 2013, 5:38 PM
An attempt by New York’s Attorney General to obtain data about Airbnb’s New York users could harm a vast array of online businesses, a coalition of Web companies warns in new court papers.
“Internet companies’ ability to provide innovative services is based on user trust,” the Internet Association says in papers filed with a New York court on Thursday. “The prospect of law enforcement authorities, regulators, and other government personnel being able to obtain broad swaths of information about consumers under no articulated suspicion of wrongdoing would unduly discourage participation in these online services.”
The Internet Association argues that online platforms like Airbnb need to keep data confidential or risk defections by customers. Internet Association CEO and President Michael Beckerman adds that New York’s attempt to glean customer data could “set a harmful and dangerous precedent about the power that law enforcement agencies have in going after Internet companies and their users.”
Members of the group include established Web companies like Amazon, eBay, Google, Facebook and Netflix as well as newer businesses like Uber and Path. The Internet Association is seeking to appear as a friend-of-the-court in a dispute between New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and room rental company Airbnb.
Schneiderman is attempting to subpoena information from Airbnb for approximately 15,000 state residents who have hosted guests through the service since 2010. Among other data. Schneiderman is asking for state residents’ names and contact information, dates of guest stays, rates charged, and communications between the users and Airbnb about tax issues. The Attorney General says he is only seeking data about people who didn’t remain in their homes when the renters were present — but Airbnb points out that it has no way of knowing whether or not homeowners were present during the visit.
Airbnb is asking a court to quash the subpoena on the grounds that it is too broad, and that complying will compromise users’ privacy.
The subpoena battle marks an escalation of the conflict between Airbnb and the authorities in New York, where a 2010 law prohibits people from renting out their homes for less than 30 days, unless they are also present. Supporters of that law say that it discourages landlords from illegally converting residential apartments into short-term hotels. They also argue that short-term visitors can present a security risk to residential tenants. There are also questions about whether Airbnb hosts are violating a tax law by failing to collect hotel use taxes from guests.
For its part, Airbnb says that it benefits the city in numerous ways. The company commissioned a study by HR&A Advisors, which concluded that the 416,000 Airbnb users who visited in the last year had a total economic impact on the city of $632 million. That report says that 82% of the rentals in areas outside of mid-Manhattan, and that average visitors spend $740 in the neighborhoods where they stay. The report also found that 87% of New York hosts rent the place they live in, and that 50% of them earn less than $72,000 a year.