A PYMNTS Company

When Platforms Share Data, Detail Is Often Lacking

 |  May 1, 2023

By: Natasha Tusikov (Center for International Governance Innovation)

The fire that tragically killed seven people in a historic building in Old Montreal, Quebec, on March 16 again focused critical attention on Airbnb’s operations. According to reports, several units in the building had been marketed through the service, in contravention of a 2018 municipal ordinance banning short-term rentals in that part of the city.

An investigation into the fire’s cause continues. However, questions should be asked about whether provincial and city authorities could have done more to detect and address any safety problems, as well as about any role played by Airbnb. In the meantime, the case raises broader questions about how governments should regulate data companies so that their treatment is not substantially different from their analog counterparts (consider Airbnb and hotels, or Uber and taxis). Further, as these companies operate by commodifying data, often from the public realm, governments need to consider what the loss of public control over now-private data sets may have on public regulatory activities and policy making.

Of course, unscrupulous landlords existed prior to Airbnb, as did unsafe housing. By design, however, Airbnb withholds data essential to city officials, because the company’s business model prioritizes the extraction and monetization of housing data, which it does not share. Airbnb also styles itself as a “platform,” strategically separating itself from its analog counterparts in the hotel industry…