When I started using AirBnB, I was put off by their service fee structure, but otherwise liked the experience. We stayed in cliffside houses overlooking the sea, urban lofts, and jungle cabins.
Because other websites ask for basic information, I didn’t mind that AirBnB has my phone number and address. Or my photograph. I think they might be linked to Facebook too, and whatever, so is my LinkedIn profile. It’s all standard procedure.
They also have my credit card on file, which is fine. A few other merchant sites have my card too. Oh, except for the fact that when I tried to remove it from AirBnB, it will not let me, saying, “default payment method cannot be removed.” What they mean is, I can’t remove my credit card from their files without deleting my entire account. No other booking engine does this, and it irks me. But that’s not even my point.
Rumor has it that AirBnB is asking some customers to upload a video of themselves or else they can’t make a booking. But that bit of creeptitude is not my point either.
Now, they’re doing something no one else, not even my bank requires. It’s this: if I want to continue using the website, they want me to upload a copy of my passport or driver’s license. Or, if prefer, I can give them the last four digits of my social security number.
Is Stanley Milgram the owner of AirBnB? And if this isn’t a sociological experiment to test gullibility and submission to authority, what is it, really?
I think they are banking on the “boiling a frog” technique. That is, you have already become used to surrendering bits and pieces of your ID online, so when asked for a little bit more, you don’t think much about it. But please don’t forget, thinking is good!
Why do they want this information? They claim it is to reduce anonymity, but there are a lot of ways to woo a girl without being a stalker.
Your passport and driver’s license have your signatures as well as unique ID numbers. Why would I give a company I know nothing about rights to my credit card, my signature, my passport, or my SSN?
It gets creepier.
I tried uploading a copy with my signature blacked out. It knew what I was up to and rejected it.
Then I tried faking the last four digits of my SSN, which, by the way, can be enough to retrieve PIN numbers and other important access keys to your life savings. Don’t believe me? Try calling your bank to tell them you forgot your PIN. See what they ask for. So anyway, I tried faking these four numbers, but AirBnB rejected me. How did they know the numbers were fake?
That scared me. I think you should be scared too.
If When AirBnB’s website is hacked, the laugh’s gonna be on you. If When your data is compromised, you won’t have any legal recourse because you willingly signed your identity over to AirBnB. You’ll look and feel like a real idiot.
Wouldn’t you like to know why they need this information? Let’s listen to what they have to say.
(a) Verifying your ID their way “builds trust.”
- You’re the one handing over money, in some cases $1000 or more, to a total stranger. That’s enough trust on my part.
- Just because someone has a passport doesn’t make him or her trustworthy.
- A database of user IDs is not building trust. It’s building a database.
(b) “Only a small number of authorized AirBnB employees are allowed access to your original documentation for troubleshooting or internal purposes.”
- “…a small number…” What does that mean? 2? 20? I don’t know their names or whether I can trust them. Do I get to see their IDs?
- “…allowed access to your original documentation for troubleshooting or internal purposes.” Deliberately vague so that they can access your documents whenever they want.
- Even if the “small number” of privileged employees never make mistakes, what guarantee does AirBnB have that their third parties are trustworthy?
- Are the third-party servers by any chance located in a small town in Romania?
If something bad happens, you lose. If it happens at a bank, your money is (theoretically at least) insured. Not so with AirBnB.
So if you trust third parties like AirBnB with more data than your bank has on file, you should really be asking yourself if you’ve dropped some IQ points lately.
People with more credentials than I have been writing about the stupidity of AirBnB’s ID-verification policy, and most agree, it sucks.
No one else is asking for this level of access to your personal data, the tools to access your life savings. PayPal, which serves as a proxy financial institution, doesn’t ask for it. Neither do my banks. I just voted absentee, and didn’t have to go through any of this.
I’m not going to go on about how I’m a loyal customer of AirBnB and how they should change their policies because I’m not loyal to them or to any other website. I make my purchases where and when they suit me and that goes for airlines, clothes, and grocery stores. AirBnB can do whatever they want, but I will not give them what they are asking for when I can use FlipKey or VRBO. And there’s always hotels.