The Los Angeles City Council and Planning Commission are considering new rules for short-term rentals including a number of specific proposals that could make it much harder for hosts to share the home in which they live. As a first step, The Planning Commission is expected to take action on these new rules this week.
Many online privacy and technology law experts believe the new proposal not only disregards basic consumer privacy but also conflicts with important Federal laws intended to protect and encourage a free and open internet. Home sharing can and should be regulated, but not at the cost of the privacy of the people who use these platforms. Airbnb is committed to working with the City of Los Angeles on solutions that make it easy for hosts to share their homes, ensure that all short-term rental operators (not just Airbnb hosts) pay their fair share of taxes, and protect the City’s housing stock. We urge the city to take the time and work through solutions that address key concerns without violating important federal protections for consumers, innovation, and online privacy.
Legal and privacy experts are raising important legal concerns about the proposal, and here is some of what they’re saying:
The legitimacy of sweeping government demands for Internet users’ transactional and personal data is a key privacy question of our time. Requiring e-commerce sites to turn over personal data so enforcement officials can scour through records and search for potential violations of local laws amounts to a blank search warrant and a basic violation of our civil rights. A government request for personally identifiable data should carefully balance the right to privacy against the right to safety and security for the public. Judges typically need to issue warrants for such information because it is considered each citizen’s right to protect it. Throwing open the door to mass data collection – with no legal justification like a warrant – would deal a serious blow to privacy rights in Los Angeles.
Internet companies cannot innovate and successfully provide beneficial services without the trust of their users. As such, the Internet Association’s member companies are deeply committed to protecting user privacy and maintaining their trust. However, a requirement that forces particular online platforms to provide recurring user data access to government officials sets a dangerous precedent that violates a fundamental tenet of online privacy – that a user’s information and online activities will not be summarily turned over to law enforcement officials without sufficient legal justification. Our concern is heightened by the fact that the imposition of such a rule could be extrapolated to require further data from online platforms about their users.
Internet home sharing platforms enhance consumer choice and offer economic opportunity for individual citizens and communities at large. In fact, 62 percent of Los Angeles Airbnb hosts use home sharing income to help them stay in their home. The listings provided by these hosts on home sharing platforms not only give visitors a greater variety of lodging options– these visitors also typically spend much of their money in local neighborhoods. Last year Airbnb alone is estimated to have supported $670 million in economic activity in Los Angeles.
Requiring home sharing platforms to play the role of law enforcement by certifying all listings on their sites meet local regulations would violate the spirit of protections Congress applied to online service providers when enacting the Communications Decency Act of 1996 (CDA). CDA Section 230 provides immunity to online intermediaries based on content created by others. In granting intermediaries safe harbor from content posted by users, Congress facilitated the growth of the modern internet.
To hold intermediaries liable would chill innovation and dissuade platforms from hosting online content created by others. For example, if intermediaries such as YouTube, Facebook, Craigslist and Airbnb were held legally responsible for the millions of pieces of content users posted each day, these sites would be operationally crippled.
We recognize that, as with any new and growing industry, the city must establish regulations regarding short-term rentals. However, efforts to create a regulatory framework for short-term rentals must adequately address enforcement and compliance without undermining the legal foundation upon which Internet providers, platforms, and homeowners have come to rely for protection. As such, we urge the City Planning Commission to reconsider these recommendations and instead seek a public policy proposal that promotes innovation and recognizes the value of short-term rentals to the city of Los Angeles.
Cities and states across the country have enacted and enforced successful short-term rental laws without having to compel the turning over consumer data en masse by platforms like Airbnb, and we would encourage Los Angeles to follow this same path.
Second, creating platform liability for host non-compliance, especially at the level contemplated in the ordinance fundamentally conflicts with the policies, rules and laws that have created thousands of successful Internet based companies.