On the Internet, according to a famous cartoon, no one knows you're a dog. To combat those dogs who would pose as humans, and others, apartment-sharing site Airbnb is instituting a verified identification program.
The effort matches someone's online identity with a photo ID or other offline personal information. In a posting on the company's blog to announce Airbnb Verified ID, site Online Marketing Manager Vivek Wagle said that "there is no place for anonymity in a trusted company," and trust is "the key to our community."
Wagle described Verified ID as the next step by the company in providing trusted features, adding to the site's secure payment structure, 24/7 customer service, messaging tools and $1 million Host Guarantee.
Airbnb users obtain a Verified ID badge for their site by providing their online identity, either in existing Airbnb reviews, LinkedIn, or Facebook, which is then matched with real-world ID confirmation, such as scanning and sending a photo ID or providing other confirming, offline personal information. The site checks to make sure the online account was not recently established and that it has a history. Offline personal information confirmation can include the last four digits of a Social Security number and a birthdate.
The site is rolling out Verified ID, beginning with a random selection of one-quarter of its U.S. users and eventually covering all users worldwide. Any Airbnb host can require a guest to have a Verified ID before a booking takes place, but if a host so requests, the host must also be verified.
In 2011, an Oakland host who had utilized Airbnb had an experience that led the site to take more steps toward security. A traveler that the host took in through a booking on Airbnb caused damage to the home while the host was away. After that incident, Airbnb instituted a $25,000 host guarantee, later raising the guarantee to $1 million.
The Host Guarantee provides protection up to $1 million for "damages to covered property in the rare event of guest damages, in eligible countries." However, it does not cover cash and securities, collectibles, rare artwork, jewelry, pets or personal liability, and the site notes that it should not be seen as a replacement for homeowners or renters insurance. The guarantee is good for hosts in 20 countries, including the U.S., U.K., Australia, France, Germany, Israel and Sweden.
The site has more than 300,000 listings in over 33,000 cities and 192 countries, and users have booked more than 10 million nights through the service. But, as the "sharing economy" continues to grow, some form of verified ID has been needed, and Airbnb could set that standard. Airbnb CEO Brian Chesky has said that, in the future, everyone online "will have an identity," and it's possible it could be the one Airbnb is launching.
The San Francisco-based Airbnb was founded in 2008 as a community marketplace to book accommodations around the world, via a computer or a mobile phone.