Airbnb forbids hosts to mention COVID-19 status in listings

Huh. I didn’t see this one coming. One Airbnb host in New York City took a novel approach to listing his guestroom on the gig economy platform. And when I say “novel,” I’m referring to the novel coronavirus. Martin Eaton was one of the asymptomatic people who was tested recently and he learned that he had antibodies in his system showing that he’d already had the disease and presumably was immune. So he listed his rental as being managed by an “immune host.” I suppose you can imagine why that might be considered a selling point, given the current conditions out there. But he was dismayed to learn that the company forbids anyone from mentioning their COVID-19 status on listings and they suspended his account. (NY Post)

Airbnb host Martin Eaton though he had a golden ticket, but the short-term rental marketplace demoted him to bronze.

After the Brooklyn resident found out he tested positive for coronavirus antibodies, he crowed about it on his Airbnb listing for a “Williamsburg Penthouse Guestroom.” Eaton described himself as an “IMMUNE HOST” in the title of the listing.

But Airbnb slapped him on the wrists. “[My] account was suspended,” the 48-year-old writer told The Post via text message. “I spoke to their basic customer service and they said it was being blocked from taking reservations … I couldn’t say I had antibodies in my title or description.”

Airbnb doesn’t go out of their way to explain why this policy is in place, so we’re left to wonder. It could either be based on their understanding of the medical science involved or some sort of social justice convention.

In terms of the first possibility, that’s probably not all that crazy. If you truly are immune and can no longer catch or transmit the disease, that might be information that potential renters would like to know. But we’ve gotten a lot of mixed messages from the medical community on this issue. Currently, the CDC website says, “The immune response, including duration of immunity, to SARS-CoV-2 infection is not yet understood.” But more than a month ago, Live Science quoted a specialist from the Mount Sinai Icahn School of Medicine as saying, “We do not have any reason to assume that the immune response would be significantly different from what’s seen with other coronaviruses.

There have even been reports of people who had supposedly survived the disease catching it again. But those may have been cases of people registering false positives with some of the early test kits that were found to be unreliable. In short, we simply don’t know if survivors are truly immune, so posting a listing in this fashion might be considered false advertising, and possibly even a dangerous misrepresentation. On top of that, how do we know if Mr. Eaton’s test was an accurate one?

The second possibility I mentioned is that we may now be living in an era of new stigmas and special privileges when it comes to the novel coronavirus. Those who are supposedly immune could be allowed to move more freely while others are forced to wear masks or simply stay home. So if Airbnb is looking at this from the social justice angle, perhaps they think that Mr. Eaton is “immunity shaming” everyone who hasn’t survived it or trying to steal bookings from people who don’t share his elite status as one of the supposed survivors.

We’re seeing something similar with Uber’s new guidelines for drivers and riders during the pandemic. Drivers must submit a selfie showing that they are wearing a mask prior to picking up a rider. Drivers are able to refuse service to any rider not wearing a mask. Similarly, the rider can cancel the trip without paying a penalty if a driver shows up maskless. We haven’t reached the point where both parties are checking each other’s temperatures before getting in the car yet, but it’s getting close.

This isn’t a huge story, but I wanted to highlight it anyway. It’s just another example of how life may be under the “new normal.” At some point, we’ll probably see people suggesting scarlet tattoos on the foreheads of people who aren’t immune.