Those who list their properties on Airbnb may be used to being on lists of good – or even bad – hosts.
Airbnb is going to share your data with the Chinese government
But in China, they’re about to appear on a whole other kind of list.
Airbnb warned its hosts and guests in China that their information will be disclosed to Chinese government agencies without further notice, starting Friday.
“Like all businesses operating in China, Airbnb China must comply with local laws and regulations including privacy and information disclosure laws,” Airbnb wrote in an email to its hosts.
Many China watchers think it’s yet another compromise the San Francisco-based short-term rental service has had to make to keep its business growing in China, although some hosts said they understood the move.
“Happy to say I closed my @Airbnb account as of yesterday. Good riddance. Enjoy the extra dollars you will make from your China operations,” wrote Swedish rights activist Peter Dahlin, best known in China for his 2016 detention thanks to his work with a human rights NGO.
Some are more sympathetic. “Airbnb is a foreign company and they are doing this out of respect for us,” a Beijing-based Airbnb host told Inkstone anonymously. “The government knows everything, and few companies would inform us about handing in our information.”
Stringent Chinese residence rules require all Chinese hotels and guest houses to notify local police when they have foreign visitors. Foreign travelers who stay with friends or families, in theory, must register at local police stations within 24 hours of their arrival.
Under the radar
Airbnb was operating under the radar when it launched in China in 2014.
That is, until its business grew too big for the government to overlook.
In late 2016, the company announced that it would store its user data locally to comply with Chinese regulations, sparking concerns that the data may be compromised.
A year later, a separate locally registered company with the Chinese name “Ai Bi Ying” was set up to run Airbnb’s business in China.
Just a few weeks ago, several home rental services in China, including Airbnb, suspended their listings in Beijing for a month, during the nation’s annual legislative meetings.
As Airbnb comes under fire for complying with Chinese regulations, its business in the country appears to be booming.
From 2014 to 2017, Airbnb’s China business grew by 100 times, while in 2017, the number of Chinese listings on the site doubled.
Many compare Airbnb to the ride-hailing app Uber, which tried but failed to crack the China market.
Faced with fierce competition from Chinese ride-hailing app Didi, Uber exited the country in 2016 after suffering mounting losses.
But unlike Uber, Airbnb booked its first ever full-year profit in China last year.
Airbnb faces its own competition, with several homegrown short-term rental companies copying its business model and even its website design.
There’s persistent talk that it has been trying to buy out Xiaozhu, one of its main competitors.
Although it may have lost customers who are concerned about privacy, Airbnb’s business stays robust, for now.