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Airbnb Releases Anonymized NYC Listing Data; City Councilors Call It 'Useless'

Airbnb's transparency maneuver doesn't find much love.

Re/code

Last month, Airbnb said it was going to start sharing anonymized information about its home-sharing listings with city officials, part of a larger campaign to win over regulators after the company won a critical political victory in San Francisco.

Airbnb today made good on that promise, releasing anonymized listing information about thousands of New York City rentals on the platform. The New York Times first reported the news. In response, New York City Council members Jumaane Williams and Helen Rosenthal issued a statement calling the release “a useless disclosure” without “specific, actionable data” on users who are running “illegal hotels.”

Releasing the anonymized information — in this case, tens of thousands of rows of data that can be viewed only by appointment at Airbnb’s New York City office — reflects the change in tone that Airbnb has pursued in recent weeks. The startup, which has raised billions of dollars and is reportedly worth more than $25 billion, needs the help of regulators in drafting laws that will let it operate in cities around the globe.

In New York City, one of Airbnb’s largest markets, the company has had limited success. It has been locked in a contentious battle with the City Council, which wants Airbnb to either start shutting down “illegal hotel”-like listings or to hand over information to the city so the government can shut down those listings itself.

Under a 2010 state law, it’s illegal for a host to rent an apartment for less than 30 days unless that host is present, although this doesn’t count for owners of single- and two-family units.

In a statement provided to Re/code (and available here), council members Williams and Rosenthal, representing parts of Brooklyn and Manhattan respectively, criticized Airbnb’s release as a cynical maneuver to get credit for being transparent.

“Airbnb only provided ‘anonymized’ data of its users who break the law — in other words, a useless disclosure that will do nothing to curb illegal hotels and tenant harassment,” the statement reads. “We have asked Airbnb to do one of two things: Show that they have a structure in place to require users to comply with our laws, and/or provide actionable data, such as addresses of illegally listed units that enforcement agencies can use. To date, we are sad to say that they haven’t done either one of these things.”

In response, an Airbnb spokesperson told Re/code, “Helen Rosenthal’s solution would be to fine middle class New Yorkers $10,000 while they are just trying to make ends meet. We think a good policy solution is to try to help regular New Yorkers have an economic lifeline. We look forward to working with the city to put middle-class New Yorkers first.”

The data Airbnb provided does not offer much that’s new or all that interesting, aside from a revenue breakdown by the number of listings per host. According to Airbnb, 41 percent of revenue generated by people who rent out entire homes comes from hosts with two or more listings. Williams, who chairs the City Council’s Committee on Housing and Buildings, has previously expressed frustration with Airbnb for not targeting these operators.

In a blog post accompanying today’s data release, the company offered a high-level overview of the information and a defense for why it has not made more data public, or at least more easily accessible.

“Consumers expect and deserve that online platforms will protect their privacy,” the post reads. “Providing this data to the public would violate privacy rights, potentially expose hard-working families to the risk of identity theft and would not assist New York leaders as they seek to craft sound policies.”

New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has previously accused Airbnb of enabling “illegal hotels” to proliferate in New York City, and his office and Airbnb reached an agreement last year for the company to hand over anonymized user data. The attorney general’s office told Re/code that today’s data release was unrelated to last year’s arrangement.

Indeed, last month, Schneiderman said that Airbnb’s “Community Compact,” the public promise that it made to release the anonymized information that it did today, was “a transparent ploy by Airbnb to act like a good corporate citizen when it is anything but.”

This article originally appeared on Recode.net.