Airbnb, the popular website that lets city dwellers offer short-term home rentals, has ended its long-running legal fight with the State of New York, which has been demanding for months that Airbnb turn over its customer records.
On Wednesday morning, Airbnb released a letter (embedded below) that states the company has agreed to turn over the data sought by the New York State Attorney General. In a key detail, the letter adds that Airbnb will be able to keep the bulk of personal data — such as names, emails and phone numbers — anonymous.
The terms of the deal, however, do allow the Attorney General to demand personal information on a case-by-case basis. The arrangement also requires Airbnb to cooperate with enforcement agents, and to take new steps to call hosts’ attention to tax and zoning rules.
For practical purposes, this means that Airbnb will not have to turn over the personal data for tens of thousands of hosts who use the service in New York in bulk. The government, however, will be able to see the scale of the company’s operations and ask for information about those it suspects are violating housing laws or failing to pay taxes (such as a Brooklyn bartender who was reportedly earning $45,000 a year from Airbnb).
The agreement comes after a judge threw out a subpoena from the Attorney General last week on the grounds that it was too broad. The State responded by filing a new subpoena, but the deal announced today means the legal fight is over for now.
The conflict has highlighted tensions over the business model of Airbnb, a company that is one of the stars of the so-called “sharing economy.” For supporters, the service provides travelers with new accommodation options, while providing residents of expensive cities with a means to earn extra income that helps them stay in their apartments. The service is less attractive to neighbors, however, who must endure a parade of strangers and tourists in their building.
Recently, Airbnb has offered to collect hotel taxes in San Francisco and New York.